In order to explore the relevance of social concepts such as stigma and denial to the transmission of HIV, this qualitative study sought to examine cultural and racial contexts of behaviour relevant to the risk of HIV infection among South Africans. A cultural model was used to analyse transcripts from 39 focus group discussions and 28 key informant interviews. Results reveal how cultural and racial positionings mediate perceptions of the groups considered to be responsible and thus vulnerable to HIV infection and AIDS. An othering of blame for HIV and AIDS is central to these positionings, with blame being refracted through the multiple prisms of race, culture, homophobia and xenophobia. The study's findings raise important questions concerning social life in South Africa and the limitation of approaches that do not take into account critical contextual factors in the prevention of HIV and care for persons living with AIDS.