AIDS Sweeps Through Councils

Municipalities need good knowledge and skills to deliver quality service to local communities. A recent Idasa study warns that loss of skills as a result of AIDS, job migration and increasing demands for service delivery may all undermine service delivery. In addition to losing public representatives and civil servants, South Africa is losing 28 000 registered voters every month. Between 2001 and 2006 there were 2,6 million voters who died, and the majority of were between the ages of 30 and 49 years. What does this mean for our democracy and stability of the infrastructure on which our democracy depends? Share your thoughts below…

Almost half of the 589 municipal by-elections in South Africa between February 2001 and December 2007 were caused by death of councillors. And most of these deaths were those of people between 25 and 49 years-old. These are some of the findings of an Idasa study of 12 local municipalities in the Western Cape, Northern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal on the impact of HIV and AIDS on local government.

Death the biggest cause of by-elections
The study suggests a link between death of young ward councillors and the prevalent AIDS epidemic in the country. “This is a profile associated with HIV AIDS impact because generally it takes younger people below the age of 49”, says Idasa’s Governance and AIDS (GAP) programme director Kondwani Chirambo.

Although Chirambo stresses that the study is exploratory, previous demographic research has established that life expectancy in South Africa has been reduced from 64 to 51 years as a result of the AIDS epidemic. One example is the 2004 Department of Health report called The Democraphic Impact of HIV/AIDS in South Africa: National and Provincial Indicators, which concluded that 70 percent of all deaths in that year in the age group 15 – 49 years were due to AIDS.

Loss of knowledge and skills
Almost all observers are agreed that municipalities depend on appropriate knowledge and skills in order to deliver quality service to local communities. The study warns that loss of skills as a result of AIDS, job migration to other sectors of the economy and increasing demands for service delivery may all ‘conspire to undermine service delivery’.
“Apart from local government losing skills to other sectors it is also suffering a depletion caused by an unexplained illnesses which could largely be associated with HIV and AIDS. And that might introduce institutional weakness because most of these are the most trained and most experienced councillors”, says Chirambo.

Death of young voters
Death is not only confined to public representatives. Chirambo says during the study they noticed that South Africa is losing 28 000 registered voters every month. And this alone should be a concern to those charged with service delivery and to the future of South Africa’s young democracy. “What would happen is pressure on cemetery space, pressure on clinic services and so on as you have younger people showing up ill. Between 2001 and 2006 we noted that there were 2,6 million voters who died, and the majority of were between the ages of 30 and 49 years. And that has to be quite worrying”.

HIV and AIDS stigmatisation
The reports shows that despite great efforts at awareness-raising, stigma remains a problem. Chirambo says most councillors they spoke to were not comfortable to talk freely about voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) and disclosure of their status. “They felt that disclosure of their status could affect their political careers because most of the public is still not accustomed to dealing with an HIV positive leader. And that also compromises their leadership around HIV and AIDS because obviously they would not be able to disclose if they are sick. And if they did disclose it could possibly affect their effectiveness because they don’t know how the public will react and they might be withdrawn and so on.”

A wellness programme for all
Among the recommendations the report is making, is for municipalities and local communities to encourage regular medical checkups to help with early detection and intervention. And to embark on wellness programmes to help councillors deal more openly with their condition rather than a direct approach which tends to stigmatise people.

Read more on the idasa website here.

Also join our discussion on facebook here.

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2 Responses

  1. I’ll share it on Twitter.

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