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Social Policy and Development Programme Paper 24: Mozambique's HIV/AIDS Pandemic: Grappling with Apartheid’s Legacy

21 Mar 2006

The author contends that the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Mozambique has grown out of the complex interplay of multiple factors. The legacy of Portuguese colonialism - especially the migrant labour system and poor public health resources at independence is partly to blame, as are the violence and social chaos wrought by the apartheid-sponsored war from 1980 to 1992. Collins also points to the necessity of relying on high HIV-prevalent neighbouring states for troops to defend infrastructure and for refuge from the chaos of war; the failure or inability to institute effective HIV prevention programmes among returning refugees; the undermining of government strategy and policies by growing dependency on outside donors and resources - such as loans and aid - to survive; and the imposition of economic policies under donor pressure, which have served to limit basic health care access fundamental to countering such a pandemic.

Collins argues that donors continue to ignore a key structural reason why HIV/AIDS prevalence continues to rise in Mozambique - and elsewhere in southern Africa - today: the continuation of the region-wide, low-wage migrant labour system beyond the formal end of apartheid. This system fragments family life, helping to sustain Mozambique’s - and southern Africa’s - HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Why? Because while Mozambiqueans continue to work in South African mines, just as during the apartheid era, they continue to be so poorly paid that they still cannot afford to live with their families while doing so, or find comparable alternative jobs in Mozambique close to their families. The central role played by the migrant labour system in Mozambique’s economy still denies Mozambiquean workers a liveable wage sufficient to sustain stable family life and end the “dualization” of their family life and sexual life.

The author says that if donors and African governments are serious about wanting to stem the rising tide of HIV/AIDS, they must begin to explore long-term alternatives to this migrant labour system - and to the dominant export-led development model touted by donors on which this system is premised.

Carole J.L. Collins is an independent consultant and freelance writer on Africa policy issues.

Order SPD PP 24 from UNRISD, 26 pages, 2005; US$ 12 for readers in industrialized countries and US$ 6 for readers in developing and transitional countries and for students.