Surviving the Forgotten Pandemic and the Role of the Catholic Church: A Challenge to AIDS and a Fight for Life among South Africa's Migrants


In 2014, a motley group of volunteers with HIV, led by a determined mother superior, was evicted from a home in Johannesburg run by the Sisters of Nazareth. The beautiful facility, replete with sprawling gardens, was in a poor, crowded neighborhood in South Africa’s largest city and had served thousands of migrants with HIV and AIDS. Following the eviction, the migrants whose lives they had saved found a padlocked door where they once received vital medications and where their support group met. Left with no more than a stapler, a filing cabinet, and a few plastic chairs, these volunteers scrambled to find a new space where they could continue providing services to the large number of international migrants living with HIV in Johannesburg’s inner-city. On a shoestring budget, they launched the Sister Mura Foundation (SMF). This paper examines the contemporary HIV and AIDS crisis in Southern Africa by telling the stories of the people who built organization and those who have sought support and community from it. We conduct roughly 50 in-depth, open-ended interviews with migrants about their experiences having and surviving HIV and AIDS in South Africa. We explore the role of the Catholic Church which, for a time, was the only nationwide organization in South Africa to provide healthcare, therapy, and information to migrants. As AIDS transitions in Southern Africa from a fatal illness to a chronic disease, we explore the continued need of migrants for health access.


Jean Halley
Professor of Sociology, Sociology and Anthropology, College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, New York, United States

Ron Nerio
Research Programs Director, CUNY Office of Research, City University of New York, New York, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


The Politics of Religion


Catholicism, HIV, AIDS, South Africa, Health, Migrants

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