HIV on the prowl in mining towns

Many girls fall in love with "gwejas." - source

Many girls fall in love with “gwejas.” – source

Best Masinire Correspondent
In the heart of Mashonaland Central province lies Shamva town, a hub of mining activities approximately 90km north-east of Harare.

The mining town is home to Talent Kone (not real name), an orphaned Form 3 student at Madziva secondary school.

Her father, who was an illegal gold miner, died of an AIDS related illness two years ago, leaving behind a sick wife, Talent and her two siblings.

Her mother, who is also HIV-positive is battling for dear life.

AIDS stole her husband from the face of the earth and also wants to snatch her from her children.

The death of Talent’s father and her ailing mother’s condition has literally condemned her to poverty.

She now plays the role of bread winner to her family.

“Ever since my mother fell sick, life has been so difficult for me because I’m now the one providing for her and my two siblings, Brenda and Mercy,” says Talent.

She is expected to hustle for necessities at a time only the fittest are able to tame the economic hardship bedevilling her community.

Talent turns 15 next month.

In this mining town, young girls of Talent’s age are idle and, given the unbearable conditions under which they live, they are forced to engage in sexual activities with illegal miners as they seek survival.

“Economic hardships are forcing young girls to date older men (sugar daddies) and the sad thing is that these grown up man are not even shy about such behaviour,” said one Mbuya Machadu, a resident of Shamva.

“I don’t even know what to do with this situation; it feels like the world has fallen on me,” says Talent in a frustrated tone.

“Most of my late father’s friends are asking me out in exchange of money.”

Talent finds herself in a tricky situation where she has to decide between engaging in intergenerational sex with HIV-positive men or face the ravages of life head-on.

She is now in a fix, failing to decide whether to accept the money or not, as she is aware of the fact that most ‘gwejas’ are HIV and AIDS carriers.

Talent Kone’s story is not an isolated case but a depiction of hundreds, if not thousands, of cases of children living in mining towns around the country where prostitution has become the order of the day and HIV and AIDS is rampant.

The Global Response Country Progress Report Zimbabwe 2014 reports that over the past years the country has managed to combat HIV and AIDS from a high of over 29 percent in 1999 to 14,2 percent in 2010. It however, states that mining towns remain a hot spot of the disease.

Dr Tapuwa Magure, Chief Executive Officer of the National AIDS Council (NAC) concurs with the report saying the highest rate of HIV and AIDS infection in the country is in mining towns.

Magure says this is due to the availability of resources among the men in those areas which leads to them buying sex from local women.

“When a mine is set up, hundreds of men are placed in an area where there are only a few women.”

“This invariably leads to the men sharing the few available sex workers and the HIV virus spreads at a much faster rate,” said Magure.

Southern African AIDS Information and Dissemination Service (SAFAIDS) information officer, Tariro Chikumbirike, also agrees with Magure adding that when most men in these mining towns find money they think of sex.

“A job in the mines implies spending a long period away from the household of origin surrounded by an active sex industry and this creates potential incentives for multiple concurrent partnerships.

“These men are known, to have a lot of disposable income and most of them end up spending it on sex,” she said.

However, to ease the scourge, Chikumbirike says SAFAIDS is running a programme in mining towns called ‘Hope On’ through which it is encouraging and educating the public on safe sex.

“We have a programme in these HIV ravaged mining towns called ‘Hope On’ through which we are doing mobile dialogues encouraging the people to indulge in protected sex and educating those infected on the benefits of adhering to treatment.”

A nurse from the mining town of Bindura who requested anonymity said the situation is worsening because of economic hardships facing the town. She states that as a result, young girls are left with no option but to date sugar daddies.

“We are faced with hard times because most of our mines are now desolate because of closure and this is forcing young women to date sugar daddies who entice them with cash and unfortunately exposes them to HIV.”

Despite the fact that condoms can be obtained for free or for a nominal fee, too many people prefer unprotected sex,” she said.

To mitigate the challenge, NAC communications officer, Tadiwa Pfupa says NAC as the coordinator has different ways of implementing HIV policies.

“NAC has been encouraging companies to have workplace HIV policies and implement them. Mining areas will be covered in programmes and HIV services within the districts that they fall under.

“NAC realised that each district has unique needs, therefore resources are now being channelled at district level. Districts then implement programmes according to their specific needs,” she said.

Pfupa adds that: “NAC continues to encourage people to use protection correctly each time they have sex. Young people are encouraged to abstain from indulging into sexual activities.

“Expecting mothers should register their pregnancies within 12 weeks to prevent transmitting HIV to the unborn baby.

“We encourage people to get tested for HIV and know their status and seek treatment early where necessary. Those on treatment should take their medicines as prescribed by health personnel.”

To guarantee a bright future for people like Talent Kone, Chikumbirike urges the Government to intensify prevention intervention methods.

“We can’t tell people not to have sex because they will always have sex but the government should have a policy to counter attack the HIV scourge in these mining towns, so as to ease the suffering of people who are affected.

“They need to intensify prevention intervention methods and make sure that condoms are readily available in the mining towns,” she said.