By Tangai Chipangura
Last week The Standard carried a story where research established that a huge number of female students at Zimbabwe’s tertiary institutions of learning engaged in sex as a means of survival or in return for some favours.
Zimbabwe boasts of more than 20 universities, technical and teachers’ colleges, all of which are unable to provide students with the most basic of needs such as accommodation, food and sustenance financial grants.
These inadequacies, which were brought about by over 15 years of politically-driven national poverty, have pushed many female students to flesh-peddling.
Most of the girls that end up selling their bodies would have left their parents’ homes as God-fearing and morally upright individuals. But as soon as they enter university or college, they are exposed to the vagaries of life on campus where needs compete for the scarce dollar and peer pressure is brought to bear.
An organisation called Female Students Network Trust (FSNT) carried out research recently and found that sexual harassment of female students was prevalent at tertiary institutions, but they also found that a good number of the students actually solicit for sex in order to survive.
In fact, most tertiary institutions have become fertile hunting grounds for sex predators — both male and female. It is a frightful fact of life that most parents have, without their slightest suspicion, found their children completely transformed within the first two months of university or college life.
The University of Zimbabwe, National University of Science and Technology, Midlands State University, Bindura University, Solusi Adventist University, Lupane State University, Bulawayo Polytechnic, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic, Gweru Polytechnic, Mkoba Teachers’ College, Mutare Teachers’ College, Mutare Polytechnic, Africa University, Great Zimbabwe University, Masvingo Teachers’ College, Masvingo Polytechnic, Nyadire Teachers’ College, Belvedere Technical Teachers’ College, Harare Polytechnic, Catholic University in Zimbabwe, Chinhoyi University of Technology — all of them are churning out not just academic heavyweights, but prostitutes as well.
The same is happening across the border, at universities in South Africa where Zimbabwean students are sent on government scholarships without money to look after themselves.
This ugly reality has been the state of affairs at our colleges and universities since Zimbabwe’s economy was ruined by political ineptitude in the late 90s.
The state of affairs at these institutions of learning hurts the students and parents alike. The FSNT research also found that to some, sex at universities and colleges is a safer outlet for male anger over harsh economic conditions on campus.
Some of the male and female students who participated in the FSNT research said that some male lecturers viewed sex with female students as part of their supplementary job benefits, just like medical aid in the context of low and often delayed salaries.
Unfortunately, the prostitution stigma is stuck on all university students and there is nothing that anybody is doing to try and save the situation. Government, which would be expected to deal with the rotten circumstances, has its own ministers among the top of the list of marauding sex scavengers at our universities.
Higher and Tertiary Education minister Jonathan Moyo has spoken a lot about academic matters at our universities and colleges. He has notably suggested that all prospective students to these institutions must have passes in Ordinary Level Mathematics and that, along with one of government’s new education policy — Stem (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) — tertiary institutions had to be more technical than they currently are.
What the minister — or anybody else in government — has not spoken about, is the moral decay that has wrecked our colleges and universities.
Most university prostitutes are genuine hunger-driven cases, but when young women take up prostitution as a source of livelihood, society is quick to put all blame on the women, refusing to acknowledge responsibility over this degrading survival option.
It is true there are female students at our universities who get so desperate they can’t find food or the basic sanitary needs, to the extent they find selling their bodies the only way out.
It is not moral or legal or safe or fulfilling, but it fills their stomachs or perhaps the habits that they pick up along the way. So they do it.
It is wrong, but they are not thinking wrong or right here. They are thinking survival — misdirected and foolish but sometimes clearly sincere — as they don’t see a lot of other choices.
Their parents are poor and government won’t give them any money.
So, tough as the situation in the country might be, authorities and parents must spare a thought for our future leaders. What they ask for are basic life needs such as food and shelter. What kind of a country will we be that fails to provide for its children to a point where we consciously allow them to turn into thigh vendors and thieves.
There is a lot that government can do to stop this disgrace; like avoiding unnecessary hotel spending on national leaders who could be saving government money by living in houses like everybody else; or preventing plunder of national wealth by a few corrupt leaders who now own entire cities even though they are government ministers whose salaries cannot explain their obscene riches.
But students too, must put an effort not to stoop so low as to throw self-esteem through the window. It remains fact that at the end of the day, it is the students that are blamed for the alternatives they pick as a means for survival. Where is their dignity and self-respect?