Researching and working with boys in Southern Africa in the context of HIV/AIDS – a radical approach
In many western countries, in recent years, boys have been much criticised for being antiintellectual, emotionally illiterate, uncommunicative, antisocial and delinquent – characteristics that have been identified as marking them out as different from girls. (see eg. Epstein et al, 2001, for a discussion on the moral panic about boys’ ‘underachieving’ in schools in Britain). In Britain, as Griffin (1998) notes, it tends to be working class and black boys who are problematised, and sport, and especially football, has been aimed at them as a way of ‘burning off’ and 're-chanelling masculine energies' in supposedly productive ways (See eg. Connolly 1998, Lloyd 1990). Such concerns about boys, and notably black boys, prevail, too, in South Africa, though here the focus is less on intellectual irresponsibility and underachieving and more on sexual irresponsibility and violence. In South Africa the emphasis on ‘hard’ sports framed in terms of ‘the benefits of recreation in combating juvenile delinquency, and as a method of social control in densely populated areas,’ has, with black boys in mind, become an important discourse.(see Nauright, 1998).
Some social commentators such as Jeremy Seekings (1996), have argued that much juvenile delinquency in South Africa has its roots in apartheid and is the expression of black young men whose identities as the 'shock troops or foot soldiers in the struggle for political change' have become redundant in the post-apartheid context.
Feelings of estrangement and uncertainty for many young (and older) black South African men have been reinforced, as Liz Walker (2003) has persuasively argued, by unemployment as well as the emphasis in the new Constitution on women’s rights.
Violence and sexual violence among young black men is presented by these writers as a response to such feelings and a way of asserting themselves. Young black men in Southern Africa have been particularly problematised in the context of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with campaigns and literature addressing them, especially, as people with multiple partners and engaging in forms of sexual harassment and violence.
In this paper I argue for ways of researching and working with boys which address the problematic identities in which many boys are invested – which put them and others at risk of HIV/AIDS and violence – without constructing black boys as the enemy. This means treating them as intelligent, creative and caring people and opening up spaces for them to critically reflect on the sorts of identities they routinely construct and inhabit. In
proposing this, I draw on a UNICEF funded study (which I co-ordinated with Fatuma Chege) which investigated how mainly teenage girls and boys in 7 countries in Southern and Eastern Africa forged their identities.1