Blame mobile technology for society's loss of morals. That's what some Zimbabwean youth recently interviewed in Harare had to say when asked about sex tapes made via video cameras on smart phones.
Though they admit that smart phones have improved communication, young people say the gadgets have also exposed women to scrutiny and social attack. Many feel that the private recordings undermine the extensive work that has been done to right gender stereotypes that project women as sex objects. This is because it is the women who are often blamed whenever sexually explicit video footage leaks out.
Top urban grooves musician Stunner and Big Brother housemate Pokello Nare were the first to have their recorded sex tape leaked to the press in 2011. Since then, sex tapes have become a constant feature in Zimbabwe's local tabloid newspaper H-Metro and on social media networks.
Private issues exposed
"The circulation of sex tapes via Whatsapp tends to project the woman in the act and not the man, which is an insult to women at large because this perpetuates the often-held stereotype that women are sex objects," says Mateline Tsama, a 22-year-old from Chitungwiza, referring to the messaging app widely used in Zimbabwe. "So in some way smart phones have become one among the tools that fuel gender discrimination."
Tendai Munhazu, a 27-year old resident from Crowborough in Harare, concurs.
"Taking the issue of sex tapes as an example, people have become too experimental, and the availability of personal digital devices such as smart phones and tablets is serving as a motivating agent to record videos that were traditionally private," says Munhazu.
The fact that smart phones have cameras makes it easy for people to try out things they never did before, including taking nude pictures and video-recording acts of intimacy.
Linnet Manzini, a 26-year-old journalist, thinks smart phones are great for communicating and sharing information, but she notes how the very same tool does not limit others' access to personal data.
"Say on Whatsapp, friends can get access to my profile picture, which they can use for anything, including posting on other social network sites," Manzini explains.
This, according to Manzini, allows any person to access private footage, which in some instances has ended up being posted on social media without the owner's knowledge. There is an increasing trend in Zimbabwe where anonymous people create obscene Facebook pages which they use to post pictures of women who are presented as looking for relationships or intimacy.
"It is then tricky for us women because when people see your picture on an obscene or dirty Facebook page such as Zim Hot Babes, they quickly label you. And you know how African society labels women," she says.
On the issue of sex tapes, Manzini believes it is always women who are blamed and ridiculed, while men are praised and applauded.
"Look at the Tinopona Katsande sex tape, people mocked and labelled her a 'loose woman' while others went as far as judging her bedroom skills but there was never debate about her boyfriend," says Manzini.
Katsande refers to the Zimbabwean radio DJ and socialite who found herself at the centre of a leaked sex tape scandal last September. Her tape went viral on social media, leading her to lose her job at station ZiFM.
Immorality nothing new
These women agree that smart phones are to blame for the erosion of Zimbabwean values, which discourage sex before marriage and infidelity. But David Chidende and Prince Kumbirai Njagu do not share the same thinking. These two men say that people were always engaging in extramarital relationships and pre-marital sex, but common knowledge of the activities was limited by the absence of convenient gadgets to record their acts.
"People should not confuse issues. Smart phones have only given people the freedom to record and share pictures and videos. People are just using the gadgets for the wrong reasons," says Chidende, 28.
He adds that the reason women are being blamed more than men is because they are presumed to be better at managing their sexual feelings.
"So if a woman fails to control herself, society will obviously react harshly against her than the man," he says.
"It's not like people were not having sex in the past. They had no means to film and share the sex tapes," he reasons.
Njagu believes that smart phones are only enhancing the process of moral decay. He adds that in the more than five sex tapes that went viral in Zimbabwe, the male partner is usually the videographer and thus not likely to show his face. Because the female partner is the one being filmed, it is often she who suffers in the smart phone spotlight.