© 2001

The Colour of Disease

Syphilis and Racism in South Africa, 1880–1950

  • Authors

Part of the St Antony’s Series book series (STANTS)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xii
  2. Karen Jochelson
    Pages 1-9
  3. Karen Jochelson
    Pages 10-33
  4. Karen Jochelson
    Pages 93-110
  5. Karen Jochelson
    Pages 163-177
  6. Back Matter
    Pages 178-248

About this book


Today AIDS dominates the headlines. A century ago it was fears of syphilis epidemics. This book looks at how the spread of syphilis was linked to socio-economic transformation land dispossession, migrancy and urbanisation disrupted social networks - factors similarly important in the AIDS crisis. Medical explanations of syphilis and state medical policy, however, were shaped by contemporary beliefs about race. Doctors drew on ideas from social Darwinism, eugenics, and social anthropology to explain the incidence of syphilis among poor whites and Africans, especially women, and to help define 'normal' and abnormal sexual behaviour for racial groups.


AIDS anthropology behavior bibliography crisis education Eugenics prostitution race social network social networks state transformation treatment women

About the authors

KAREN JOCHELSON taught at the University of York, and then held a Wellcome research fellowship at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London. Since completing an MBA at the London Business School she has consulted to business on sustainable development, human rights, biotechnology and stakeholder relations.

Bibliographic information


'This is an innovative study in social and medical history. Following Randall Packard's book on tuberculosis, it is a pioneering analysis of a single disease and its ramification in the country's history. Understanding both the incidence, and treatment, of syphilis in South Africa demands attention to migrant labour, the development of medical services, prostitution and racial ideas. The approach adopted is also an excellent foundation for an analysis of the contemporary epidemic of AIDS which threatens to ravage the sub-continent. The final chapter makes such linkages explicit.' - William Beinart, Professor of Race Relations, University of Oxford