The AIDS Pandemic in Context in Beauty’s Gift
The Aids pandemic has spurred so much commentary in South Africa that its true, startling impact can sometimes be overlooked: is easy to forget that approximately 5,38 million people are living with HIV and that an average of 1100 people die of Aids each day (Statistical Release 3) (“AIDS FactFile” 2010). Aids too many is a disease that is heard about and is not truly understood. Sindiwe Magona’s novel, Beauty’s Gift, provides life-like situations of problems that Aids causes in South Africa. This essay will discuss Sindiwe Magona’s approach to Aids in the novel and how aspects such as funerals, polygamy and the Xhosa marriage, and the ignorance of men in the Xhosa culture contributed to the effect of Aids and the South African context described in the novel.
Sindiwe Magona uses an extremely blunt and forward approach to Aids in Beauty’s Gift. She hides neither facts nor truth and has little embarrassment in confronting the problems concerning Aids. Margaret von Klemperer says on Sindiwe Magona’s approach to the Aids pandemic, “She obviously feels people must speak out on the Aids issue because only if the stigma is removed and the disease can be talked about openly, can it be controlled.” (“The Witness” Web). She does this through her characters and their actions. She makes the reader realise the seriousness and reality of the Aids pandemic in South Africa today. Her intentions of being forward are purely educational. In an interview with Margaret von Klemperer, Magona says, “It’s a book about our national shame, and it will make me enemies, but I wrote it because I am very, very angry. We need to be honest, and say that what is wrong is wrong.” (“The Witness” Web). Her novel, Beauty’s Gift, has an educational purpose for women and men. She aims to warn women that they may not be safe in their marriages and that they should protect themselves, “Let us fight back! Don’t let the busy-tongued gossip stop you from testing! Don’t let him stop you from getting the right medicine you need!”(Magona 85). Her aim for men is to educate them on how Aids is spread. , “Men who refuse to use condoms kill women!”(Magona 70). She attempts to make them aware of their actions and show them that they need to take responsibility for what they do.
Magona sends the main point of her message, that women must protect themselves, through the novel’s main character, Beauty. Before her death Beauty says, “Don’t die a stupid death, like I am doing! Live!” (74). This message urges her friends to make sure her wish comes true and they do this by making sure their relationships are safe. If more African women could be touched by Magona’s message South Africa would be a safer place for her children and women living in it and less would be affected by this deadly disease. The reader is extremely aware of Aids and the vast number of people affected by it at the funerals. The story and educational message would not have the impact they had if the funeral scenes were not in the book. The funeral scenes deal with sensitive topics which may be offensive yet they are there purely to create awareness and to educate the reader on the aspects of the African culture and the disease destroying it. Mrs Mazwi is an educational character who is deliberately placed in the novel by Magona to warn the reader and to deliver a message to the reader. She is a guest speaker at one of the Sonti brother’s funerals. Her eye-opening yet truthful statement, “Very soon, all of our families will have at least one person infected with HIV. One, if we are lucky. “(85) Makes the reader aware of how many people are affected by the disease and how many families are torn apart due to Aids. The funerals are also where most gossip is spread and where the reader begins to realise the ignorance of Xhosa men and their obscure ideas of Aids.
The ignorance of the African man is yet another aspect in the South African context described that Magona makes the reader aware of. Not only are these men ignorant towards Aids, they also show no knowledge in how it is spread. This is shown through the conversation between Moses, Cordelia and Gabula. Cordelia says “You are just assuming the twins were infected by their girlfriends.” (Magona 69). Gabula responds with an uneducated statement, “Everybody knows that is how men get Aids.” (Magona 69). These men do not realise that is it their actions that spread the virus too. It is easy for the African man to blame the women or ignore the facts. They constantly deny the facts about Aids and this makes the reader question if the men refuse to change because how they currently live is purely beneficial for them. When Cordelia suggests that women should protect themselves with condoms they argue by saying, “using a condom is like eating a sweet with the wrapper on!” (Magona 70). These men do not care about others safety, let alone their own. As stated earlier these men believe that only women can pass on Aids, yet they refuse to wear a condom and protect themselves. This assures the reader of the absurdity in these men’s thoughts. “African men’s resistance to behavioural change is killing African women” (Shober 87). When will their mindset change? Or is this how people in South Africa have to live, with constant fear of their men? Many of the African men are raised in a typical Xhosa culture where not only polygamy and illegitimate children are considered normal but also demanding sex from their wives and being the dominant figure in the marriage. Magona makes it clear that she does not believe in polygamy and that it is a health risk for both the husband and his wife. She believes that is it polygamy that contributes most too many innocent women dying. “African Mothers, Faithfully married, are killed by men who will not stop sleeping around!” (Magona 70).
Another shocking fact is that many men in the novel, who Magona uses to reflect the majority of men in South Africa, believe they own their wives. Whether it is one or two wives, if they pay labola for her then they own her. We see these actions through Edith’s husband Luvo and Cordelia’s husband Vuyo. Towards the end of the novel Luvo rapes Edith. The novel’s description of the rape, “She lay there like a log and let him do whatever. It was over in seconds. ” (171) creates a realisation of the harsh lives many married, African woman have to endure. Another example of these women’s constant struggles to protect themselves and their marriages is when Cordelia asks Vuyo to take an Aids test or to use protection with her. He responds by finding himself “what he calls ‘a one-night thing’.” (Magona 90). All these women are faithful, hard working and focused on raising their children while their men are running amok. This is a truly shocking realisation. In her novel, Magona states, “More often than not, these men are the women’s sole source of food and rent, not to mention clothes and school fees for their children.” (115). Even though the women in the novel stand up to their partners and turn away from the typical traditional Xhosa marriage, the reader becomes aware that very few women in South Africa would actually have the courage to do so. Many of these men believe that they may father a child but they do not have to play the father figure in the child’s life. An example of this is Amanda’s husband, Zakes, who has two illegitimate children who he does not care for or even bother to see. Amanda says that she is not angry about the illegitimate children but instead she is angry at her husband for not taking responsibility for them. “I am angry and disappointed that my husband has children he does not put to bed at night or comfort when they have a bad dream.” (Magona 155). “The love the African man has for children is in making those children, not raising them.” (Magona 115). She sends a message to African men to embrace fatherhood and not only play a role in making their children.
In these ways, Magona uses an educational approach in her novel focusing on both men and women in South Africa. African women are suffering while African men contribute largely to the spreading of Aids. If polygamy remains and they refuse to change their approach to the disease, Aids will soon affect every family. This is unavoidable unless South Africans choose to fight for their lives like the women in the novel do.
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