“Some of the guys know that if you have sex without a condom, it’s dangerous. But they just don’t care,” says 16-year-old Nomsa from Cape Town.
“It’s only my best friend who I know for sure is using condoms with her boyfriend,” says Zodwa, a 20-year-old from Imbali, Pietermaritzburg. “We go to the funerals of people who died of AIDS. But the guys still say they won’t do it with a condom.”
For many young people, resigned to a life with few opportunities and a future without promise, sex is one of life’s few pleasures. But their lack of faith in the future means that many are not bothering to practice safe sex.
Even though research shows that most sexually active youth know how HIV is transmitted and that they are at risk of infection, many still do not practise safer sex.
“Many young people see disease and falling sick as something that is out of their control,” says University of Natal anthropologist Dr Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala.
“They do care [about getting HIV/AIDS] but they feel, ‘What’s the use in caring? Why should I care about falling ill in 10 year’s time when tomorrow I could be shot or hit by a bus?’ So there is this idea among youth that they have to enjoy life while they can and that sex is one of the few pleasures that they have.”
Leclerc-Madlala, who has researched young people’s attitudes over the past few years, says that many youths show a resigned fatalism about both HIV/AIDS and the future ‘ mainly because of poor personal circumstances.
She adds that young people also “feel let down in the new South Africa. Opportunities have not materialised and an orientation to the future depends on the future being guaranteed”.
Professor Alan Flisher from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town says that extreme fatalism is also based on “the conviction that there is no escape from HIV.”
“A similar effect has been noted when people face a lack of sanitation and clean drinking water,” says Flisher. “The relative importance of HIV decreases due to the difficulty of day to day life and other barriers to staying healthy.”
While the majority of youth do want to avoid HIV infection, economic conditions and social norms in South Africa undermine the self-efficacy required for safer-sex behaviours, says Flisher.