AIDS is only one of several life threatening social problems facing people living in poverty. HIV/AIDS prevention messages and prevention programmes should be framed within the context of relevant social problems. The current study examined public perceptions of AIDS as a relative social problem and AIDS-related socio-political beliefs among South African men and women living in a Black township of Cape Town. Participants (224 men and 276 women) completed surveys that assessed perceptions of HIV/AIDS relative to nine other social problems: lack of housing, transportation, poor sanitation, sufficient food, unemployment, discrimination, poor education, violence and crime. Participants also responded to six items assessing socio-political views of AIDS. Results showed that AIDS was perceived as a serious social problem in the township, but was perceived as less serious than crime and not different from violence and unemployment. Principal components factor analyses showed that AIDS was associated with multiple social problems and that AIDS was most closely associated with crime and violence, representing social problems that directly cause death. Although AIDS perceptions were similar to those expressed by the South African government, there was evidence for some mistrust about both what the government was doing and what it was saying about AIDS. HIV prevention messages in South Africa should be tailored to fit the perceived social context of AIDS.