When female students arrive, they join an informal sorority known as the “university spinster association”, or USA, while their male counterparts are inducted into the “university bachelor association”, or UBA.
Their sexual networks are coded in a slew of slang that, according to University of Pretoria researcher Tsitsi Masvawure, masks high-risk behaviours, including multiple concurrent partnerships and cross-generational sex, which facilitate the spread of sexually transmitted infections and HIV.
Masvawure presented the findings of her study, conducted over 15 months at UZ, where she also studied, at the Sexual Violence Research Initiative Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Induction into these risk behaviours comes soon after orientation week, when the “gold rush” begins and first-year female students, perceived to be “sexually pure”, are targeted by older male students for a one-night stand, or “one-day international”.
These young women are categorized as “gold”, those in their second year as “silver”, and third-year female students are labelled “bronze” members of the USA.
Older female students often engage in multiple concurrent relationships, not to survive in cash-strapped Zimbabwe, but to secure access to luxury goods like expensive hair extensions or high-priced foodstuffs, or because they perceive older men to be better boyfriends, Masvawure told IRIN/PlusNews.
“UBAs are not romantic,” one young woman told Masvawure in an interview. “I don’t want you to rush … [in making] me yours; don’t rush, this is not a land reform programme.”
Younger male students also helped connect female friends with wealthier, older men, often finding potential sugar daddies at transport hubs en route to the university in Harare’s city centre an exercise known as “pimping”.
“This disputes the traditional analysis that transactional sex is about money and sex, with boys giving money and girls giving sex. These girls were not from the poorest households, they were from families that, in some cases, were politically connected,” Masvawure noted.
She said her study revealed problems in HIV prevention programmes on campuses, and hoped it would lead to more targeted HIV interventions for students.
The government is looking to strengthen sex education to better equip young people before they reach tertiary level. A policy on adolescent sexual and reproductive health is expected to be released in two weeks.
IRINPost published in: News