LONG-distance relationships pose a threat to the lives of couples in such unions.
Some jobs require that the husband or sometimes the wife is away from home for weeks or even months on end. An example is that of truck drivers. The nature of their job sees them living apart from their spouses for several days.
The truckers are usually have a “spare wheel” (wife) in each city if not in-between cities.
I travelled on the Harare-Masvingo highway last month and what I saw painted a shocking and grim picture.
There were several trucks parked at the Mbudzi roundabout and the place was a hive of activity as women eagerly waited for more trucks to arrive.
As soon as a truck stopped, women would take turns to walk towards it and this all appeared planned because it all happened in a few minutes after the driver stopped.
One or two trucks would drive off with the new “passenger” but most just disappeared into the truck and later emerged and waited for the next truck to park.
I asked one of the truck drivers who was taking a smoke break and strolling by the parking lot why they only opted for female passengers.
The trucker only identified himself as Mhofu said the women threw themselves at them.
“We do not go to these women’s places and we do not phone them. Most of them even those who pretend to be travelling will be going nowhere. You give them a lift once and they ask for your phone number and even ask when you are coming back. They are the ones who propose to us,” said Mhofu.
Mhofu said because of delays at the border post, they are usually away from home for even a month. This is when these women threw themselves at their disposal and they had no choice but to succumb to temptation, he added.
“I may be on a long trip taking cargo to DRC and this can take weeks before I come back home. I carry protection but sometimes condoms run out in the middle of nowhere and this is where the problem lies. That is when one just takes a risk. Some of the women even prefer unprotected sex so in such cases it is difficult,” he said.
Mhofu said it was not possible to abstain for such a long time hence the risk their jobs posed.
“No fully functional man can go that long without becoming intimate. I am not alone in this predicament, even some men who live with their wives full time are not faithful, so it’s a man’s thing to be unfaithful. It is, in fact, macho,” he said.
Mhofu said that he has a “spare wheel” nearly in every town he stops.
“I have regulars so it’s not like I get to start all over again. The women phone me and I hook up with whoever is there, so I do not have to look for new girls as such,” he said.
Mhofu said that he tried to use protection but this is often difficult
“I have two girls with who I do not use any protection. I have a child with one of the women so I consider her like my second wife,” said Mhofu.
Mhofu was evasive when asked how he came to settle for someone he had met as a part-time “lover”.
“She was not the type that changed truck drivers. She was decent and she does not hitch-hike anymore. She used to get a lift from me as she plied the Zambia route for business. So she now lives in Karoi with my child and I see her when I pass through that town,” said Mhofu.
On being asked whether he keeps getting tested for HIV since he has multiple concurrent partners, Mhofu said there was no need.
“There is no need for me to get tested. Afamba mudope anototota chete, ukada kutsvaga makudo mugomo uno awana. (One who was waded in murky waters is surely going to get wet). I will not try to find the obvious,” said Mhofu.
Mhofu said that in any case his job is high risk and driving at night is worse than getting infected with HIV.
“I have lost many of my pals, not to HIV but to road carnage. So why should I be bothered by a small issue when I travel the lengths of the ‘lion-infested’ roads,” he asked.
Another driver who was taking a nap in the sun said he was not comfortable giving his name but only his story on the highways.
“I have been a truck driver for over 20 years. I have my queen back home in Chinhoyi and all these other women are there to ‘kill’ time. The one currently preparing my meal is on her way to Johannesburg, so she does the wifely duties both in cooking and bedtime,” he said.
He said he gives her free transport in exchange for sex.
“For sure, you do not expect me to give her a free ride. She has to pay in kind and also do the cooking. Anyway it’s my food she is preparing, so she can eat free of charge too,” he said.
The driver said that he always insisted on using protection.
“I always use protection. Why should I be so reckless and indulge with Mary, Chipo, Helen as if I am ignorant of their ‘business trends’. I am a family man and very responsible,” he said.
The man said that he was comfortable with having one regular passenger who goes on a long journey rather than hooking up with various women in every town,
“I would rather deal with one woman. If she is not available then I can do without cheating during that duration,” he said.
One woman I spoke to said she had no choice but to trade her flesh with the truck drivers.
“I lost my husband several years ago and I have school-going children. Truck drivers are not selfish and do not try to control you. They can drop you in Chivhu or even Mvuma then you travel back to Harare with drivers who are on their way back from Johannesburg,” said the woman.
“In a good week I can safely net US$100, so it’s good business. No one at home knows what I do so I am comfortable doing it with the long distance truck drivers,” she said.
They have all heard of the dangers of multiple concurrent partners but the women say their needs far outweigh the risk factor.
The truck drivers said at times they run out of condoms and it is at such times that they take the plunge.
The women who traded themselves in Masvingo province were even younger. As one got to Ngundu Halt it was evident that some of the girls were school going and supplementing their families’ income.
One young girl aged around 15 said she would stop when she finished school and got a job.
“I will stop this business once I pass O-Level and get a job. I intend to travel to South Africa and work there if I get good qualifications here. For the meantime, I have to sell myself to these long distance truck drivers because they are generous. We had a poor harvest, in fact we always have poor harvests, so it’s not my fault,” she said.
It appears there is a long way to go as the danger of driving poses a far greater risk than the spread of HIV to some of the long distance truck drivers.