The Day of the African Child is commemorated each year on 16 June. The day is held to remember schoolchildren who were massacred whilst protesting apartheid-education policies in the Soweto township of apartheid South Africa in 1976, exactly forty year ago.
And exactly 40 years later, the year 2016 has been an eventful year in the victimisation of the young in neighbouring Zimbabwe, especially young women.
In May 2016, state papers in Zimbabwe screamed headlines claiming that almost half of the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) students were HIV positive. Within a month the same state media was to expose former Zanu-Pf activist and parliamentary candidate Acie Lumumba’s sex tape featuring an unidentified young woman.
The two incidences are dangerously linked. For starters, both were exposed by the state media. Secondly there were openly aimed at victimising vocal sections of the Zimbabwean society. The report stating that “almost half of students who underwent HIV testing at the University of Zimbabwe were positive” was immediately buttressed by calls for the limitation of free association in campus’ halls of residences.
The second incident, which was poorly disguised as a scoop, was aimed at punishing former Zanu Pf Harare Provincial Executive member and shadow MP for Hatfield constituency, Acie Lumumba who had just resigned from the ruling party citing rampant corruption and lack of good governance in party and government. He claimed his sex tapes got into state hands after police searched his house in June 2016. The sex tape immediately came to a government-owned tabloid, H-Metro and the same day, the video began to circulate on the internet. So much for state spying on people’s bedrooms.
In as much as the 47% HIV article article published by Herald and the Chronicle on a research purported to have been done by the National Aids Council seems to tarnish the image of the institution, it also compromises the reputation of the students especially female students. The Lumumba sex-tape on the other hand, highlights the patriarchal notions of treating young women as objects that can be used to settle political scores without even the courtesy of consent or offering dignity to young women.
The state paper could have done by covering the face of the young woman rather than splashing her image and body on the public eye. Basic human dignity and respect for citizen privacy should have entered the conscience of the alleged police searchers, political bullies as well as editors of the tabloid.
Blaming female students and young women
Each time there is a discussion on the sexual behaviour of people, be it in society as whole or about students in tertiary institutions, most of the blame seems to fall on female students and young women. Female students and young women are often judged based on the rumours on their morality and sexual behaviour in institutions and in general society.
This is mainly perpetuated by the assumption that most female students and young women engage in sex work with rich married men in exchange for money and other material favours. Such rumours have been with us for so long such that, they have been slowly accepted as truth for almost every female student and young woman in the country. This excuses men in general and male students in particular from playing a part in any of the sexual activities in society and in tertiary institutions.
The article which stated that 47% of students at UZ who underwent testing are believed to have been positive, is likely to have a negative impact on the female than male students. When the UZ Vice Chancellor Levy Nyagura gave a comment, he pointed to the fact that an increase in the number of pregnant students was a cause for concern as if that is a direct relation between being pregnant and being HIV positive. Furthermore, his comments make falling in pregnancy as a crime. Already in his comment, Professor Nyagura ignores the fact that for a woman to conceive, there is a man involved.
Such statements perpetuate the attitude which is already deep rooted in our society that a woman is to blame for every relationship between two people. It is rare for men an d male students to be judged based on where they learn or what they do, it is always the women and female students who are at fault. Unfortunately, this does not end with street talk but it even translates to the abuse that female students, young women or employees experience in workplaces.
We have heard of cases of female students and young women who are sexually harassed when they go for work related learning, and some even fail to secure places as a result. The assumption among some men that female students and young are easy or are of loose morals are based on the rumours and beliefs that always implicate female students.
If someone has heard that students from a certain institution are ‘easy’, that person may decide to try their luck on any student from that institution expecting to get a positive response. A negative one, will lead to disappointment and hence opens way to for abuse. To compensate for the rejection, one may then decide to offer the opportunity that the student is seeking in exchange for sexual favours, worst cases end up in sexual harassment or rape.
No more patriarchy
To sum it all, it has become a sad development that state organs themselves are taking centre stage in the perpetuation of such stigmatisation. The UZ reports and the Lumumba sex tape expose state-sanctioned patriarchy at its worst. It is the duty of ever responsible citizen to defend violations of individual liberty and to protect victims of a bulling patriarchal society.
To that end, though the UZ retracted its statements as a face saving measure and a young women exonerated herself from the sex tape, the media and law-enforcement organs in Zimbabwe must look at their consciences and ensure that they do not become such sadistic pawns and perverts in the broader political game.
A continuation of such victimisation and patriarchal bigotry against female students and young women will only serve to destroy the hopes, healthy sexualities and freedoms of an already-suffering demographic, populace and nation.
[Daphne Jena is a women’s rights activist. Lenin Tinashe Chisaira is a former SRC Vice-President at the University of Zimbabwe. They write in their activist capacities. ]