01 December 2009

Multiple partner shock

Despite all information to the contrary, many of South Africa's youth still cling to the dubious belief that sleeping with multiple partners proves that you're a man.

By Nobantu Kumalo

The turn of the century brought with it many changes in perceptions, beliefs, thoughts and numerous myths. But unfortunately things didn’t change, or rather people refused to question some of their beliefs.  One of these dubious beliefs being that the measure of one’s manhood is the number of women you can bag.

We were in the breathtaking, mountainous regions of Mpumalanga in a village called Kwabokweni to meet a young man Jeffrey, in his twenties. Jeffrey is a self proclaimed, two-timing, bed-hopping womanizer who isn't shy to tell that to the world.

"I have about four girlfriends. As a result, I am well respected amongst my peers," he says

Surely this was what the men from my mother's generation thought, NOT educated young men in their prime? With HIV infections so high I would have thought that this kind of mentality was a thing of the past. And the relationship between multiple partners and the transmission of HIV is one that has been proven over and over - look at the Scrutinize ads! But as the morning unfolded, we were joined by a group of his friends under the shady mango tree.  As the six spoke one by one, the conversation seemed to be getting more controversial, more outrageous, leaving me totally flabbergasted…maybe it was the mango tree, I thought for a second.

"I have five girlfriends," one shouts, "I don’t really know how many I have, but when a new girl visits this village all I know is that I'm the first to strike," says another.  They briefly talk about condom usage, but it's clear that even though they know and are clued up about HIV infection and prevention, condoms are not used constantly.  Most of them state that they know their HIV status whilst a few prefer to look the other way. And all aren't the slightest embarrassed to say they don't use condoms with 'straights' (the ones they 'love').

"I can't have one girlfriend. Who eats cabbage everyday, sometimes you have to change and have chicken or beef," the talkative one blurts out. "What about the responsibility to protect your straight girlfriend from HIV?" I ask. "Well, I always use condoms with the rest," he answers.

But I don't believe him one bit.

I had heard most - if not all - of their utterings before, but I had been a bit naïve in thinking that it was my uncle's peers and mates who still thought like this. As a result, I was a bit shaken. It will take a lot to change some perceptions and beliefs. If HIV still fails to do so, I don't know what will work…except maybe a simple change in people's mentality, of course. 

Nobantu Kumalo is a community journalist working on the TV programme, Siyayinqoba/Beat It!, which screens on SABC1 every Thursday at 13h30.  It is repeated on Soweto TV, CTV (Cape Town) and Bay TV (Richards Bay-Empangeni) each Saturday at 11am. The show can also be viewed at



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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria before working for an HIV/AIDS NPO in Soweto for many years. She was named one of the Mail & Guardian's Top 200 Young South Africans in 2012.

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