n Journal of Public Administration - Government's management of the South African aids epidemic : lessons for public administrators

Special issue 2
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



This article is an enquiry into the public policy response to the South African AIDS epidemic. Since AIDS first appeared in the country in 1982 there have been numerous good policy documents written by successive South African governments - yet the epidemic shows little sign of abating. Successive South African governments have defined the policy problem in different ways: moving from a moralistic to a biomedical approach, the most recent public policy response has been (discursively at least) to view the epidemic as a developmental and human rights-based problem. However, despite the drafting of broadly inclusive and well-conceptualised policies, previous as well as the current South African governments suffer from a crisis of implementation. This is the result of a failure on the part of South African governments to consistently and correctly define the AIDS policy problem itself. This has resulted in a contested policy environment, particularly in terms of the appropriate policy responses required. As a consequence, the initial close relationship between the new South African government and AIDS civil society has been badly eroded. Civil society has turned to a strategy of bypassing the national government altogether, by appealing to the courts in an effort to ensure the implementation of AIDS policies. Unless public policy makers address the structural drivers of the AIDS epidemic (race relations, sexual violence and cultural factors), South Africans will continue to suffer the ravages of the epidemic, nullifying some recent successes of provinces and local governments in demonstrating some policy implementation capacity.

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