16 June 2019

Zimbabwe: Shurugwi Female Gold Panners Paying for Sex

Photo: The Guardian

OFFICIAL HIV/AIDS interventions need not target male gold artisanal miners alone because their female counterparts can also turn into "sex predators", the National Aids Council has heard.

During a tour of the Midlands's artisanal mining flashpoints including the small town of Shurugwi, officials were told the fight against AIDS need to be holistic and in seeking to reduce prevalence among informal miners, female gold panners are sometimes left out.

"When stakeholders come to talk about HIV/AIDS, they usually target male gold panners, forgetting that here we have women too.

"From my experience I have seen that after spending two weeks underground the female artisanal miners do not care whom their next sexual partner is," Condom Champion Tichaona Kwashira said during a recent National Aids Council tour of its HIV/Aids advocacy centres in Midlands.

"They will just target the next male available and demand sex and in most cases, no condoms will be available as women rarely carry condoms with them."

He added: "In the heat of the moment, they (female artisanal miners) can also force anyone to have sex with them and also pay handsomely. Remember these are not sex workers but gold panners."

Kwashira said in their interactions as point persons in the distribution of condoms, encouraging women to carry condoms is the new frontier.

"Sometimes they will tell you that if you have a condom, let's use it, but if you don't have, let's indulge in unprotected sex.

"The wild mindset is common among female and male artisanal miners and also most of the time they will be drunk and they will only start thinking about using a condom after the act," he said.

It was also learnt that while there are sometimes "short-term-permanent" relationships, these have also helped the spread of the pandemic given the propensity to drop the use of protection after a while before moving on to the next partner.

"When these artisanal miners have 'permanent partners' they drop condoms before they move to the next partner after some few weeks.

"But these relationships do not last and the unprotected sex becomes high among artisanal miners," said another condom champion.

Recently, the government regularised the operations of gold artisanal miners in recognition of their contribution to the economy.

The move could open floodgates given the high rate of unemployment.

Along with these sex orgies and drug abuse, the artisanal mining sector has also become dangerous as rival groups move around with weapons such as machetes, catapults and spears to mark and defend territories.

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