South Africa’s story of HIV and Aids starts with tragic arrogance, in a new democracy suddenly threatened from an unexpected direction. Then came activism and tenacity by ordinary citizens. Today, the country has one of the world’s biggest public health programmes.
Charting South Africans’ life expectancy is to track the country’s modern history. In 1960, when the state was grimly implementing apartheid laws, an average newborn child was expected to have a lifespan of only 52 years – 50 years for boys. In 2015, life expectancy was 62 years.
In the West the peak of the Aids epidemic was in 1985. But HIV and Aids hit South Africa only in the 1990s, just as we were starting to build a new society out of the ruins of apartheid. Here, the epidemic peaked in 2006.
South Africa has 56.5-million people, according to 2017 estimates. The 2011 census puts it at 51.5-million. Black South Africans make up around 81% of the total, coloured people 9%, whites 8% and Indians 3%.