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HIV/AIDS, the erosion of social capital and the collapse of rural livelihoods in the Nkomazi district of South Africa

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HIV/AIDS is a major driver of livelihood insecurity. The AIDS epidemic, through the death or disability of economically productive adults, destabilises and erodes the social networks which sustain the livelihoods of vulnerable households. This paper draws upon research with home-based care workers and family members of 14 households directly affected by HIV/AIDS in the rural district of Nkomazi, South Africa. Through a social capital framework this study reveals the fragile linkages between households and broader kin networks demonstrating the (in)ability of the households to adapt and manage the economic and social impact of the epidemic. The chronic financial burden of the epidemic on poor households compounded by HIV/AIDS-related stigma undermines kinship ties resulting in the extended family becoming more conditional, temporary and at times destructive. The extended family cannot be romanticised as a ‘safety net’ and instead needs to be problematised for its complexities, limitations and constraints while ensuring sufficient external support is provided to sustain the care and support provided by the family and local community.

Keywords: home-based care; kin; reciprocity; rural livelihoods; social networks; stigma

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Johannesburg, PO Box 2210, Pinegowrie 2123, Johannesburg, South Africa. Author’s , Email:

Publication date: December 1, 2013

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