Study Probes Link between Ukujola and HIV/AIDS
The socially constructed meaning of ukujola casual relationships and how they fuel the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in South Africa, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, were examined in research conducted by Dr Themba Mgwaba for his PhD in Development Studies from UKZN.
‘I have always held the view that the current academic debates and discussions do not involve cultural constructions of sexual relationships as they should,’ said Mgwaba.
One of his significant findings was the illegitimacy surrounding ukujola relationships emanating from the centrality of ilobolo in African culture and how this serves as a barrier to safe sex and mitigates against duration of partnerships.
‘The involvement of families in negotiating ilobolo (bride wealth) is a pre-requisite for legitimate relationships, particularly marriage,’ said Mgwaba. ‘Multiple concurrent sexual partnerships typically exist in ukujola relationships, and unprotected sex is common. There is a need for a national dialogue on ilobolo in the context of HIV/AIDS.’
Mgwaba believes that these unique sexual partnerships may help all concerned to better understand the high HIV prevalence rates in KwaZulu-Natal and South Africa. ‘HIV prevalence rates will remain high in South Africa, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, unless interventions emphasising all the elements of the ABC (Abstinence, Be faithful, and use Condoms) strategy are implemented.’
He argues that there is a need to promote augmented ukujola relationships, which exclude penetrative sexual intercourse. ‘It is most striking to find that young people believe that love is intricately linked with having sexual intercourse. The inseparability of sexual intercourse from these partnerships translates into high HIV susceptibility for those involved because of the high rate of partner change, and multiple and concurrent relationships associated with these relationships.’
Mgwaba plans to continue conducting and publishing more research into this subject.
His advice to students is to ‘hit the road running when you register for a PhD. Adhere to the time frames you’ve set for yourself.’
Words: Melissa Mungroo
Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan