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.
The story of HIV and Aids in South Africa is one of tragic arrogance, of a hopeful new democracy suddenly threatened from an unexpected direction, of activism and tenacity and, eventually, of one of the largest public health programmes in the world.
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%.
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.