Chirundu Boarder Post (the Western Zambezi River boarder post between Zimbabwe and Zambia) like most boarder posts is a hive of activity with a lot of human and commercial goods crossing the border on a daily basis. Long ques of commercial trucks in transit are a common and regular sight as they wait their turn to be cleared on both sides of the boarder before they can proceed with their journeys. More often than not the final destinations are not only Zimbabwe or Zambia but countries as far as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, South Africa (Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town).  

Long distance driving is a male dominated profession and most drivers are aware that they have long been implicated in the early geographical spread of HIV in Southern Africa. Drivers often travel long distances and spend long periods away from their families.  Strangling delivery deadlines, in some cases poor salaries and very brief periods of rest between deliveries - these working conditions and tendency for high risky sexual behaviour of transport industry employees make them very vulnerable to HIV infection.

Due to various HIV interventions including the Hear our voice! Speaking out for HIV services and care support in Zimbabwe project, many long distance drivers are aware of their vulnerability and their HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention knowledge levels are reasonably high.

More and more drivers claim to be abstinent while on the road; some have regular extramarital girlfriends; some occasionally, and some regularly avail themselves of sex workers but are using condoms. As with other men in high-HIV areas, three main risk-reduction interventions have been attempted with drivers: increasing sexual health-seeking behaviour, increasing condom use and reducing partner numbers.
While drivers have reported an increase in their sexual health-seeking behaviour with the availability of a Roadside Wellness Clinics at Chirundu Boarder Post, and increased condom use, it is not clear that many of them are reducing partner numbers. Some drivers continue high-risk behaviour and their resistance to change may be due to fatalism, beliefs that it is unmanly to reduce partner numbers, and the insidious effects of being away from home and constantly solicited by sex workers.
The Chirundu Roadside Wellness Clinic is solicited by an average forty (40) people daily, nearly half of this number comprises Long Distant Drivers and commercial sex workers with the rest being drawn from the local community.
It is not easy being a Long Distance Driver as highlighted by Temba Mucharidza (not his real name). It is back breaking work, with very long working hours with little or no resting time between deliveries. Away from the sexual romps they are notoriously known for the working conditions for long distant driver rank among the worst.
“There is no way any HIV and AIDS initiative can be truly effectively in the transport industry without addressing the working conditions that continue to put long distance drivers at risk”, declared Themba.
“I started working for my company in 2009 and I have not been allowed to go on leave since. The only time you are give two or three days off work is when you have to attend a funeral of a close relative”.
Themba is employed by a very big well known transport company which became even bigger in recent years after it merged with another equally big transport company. “It seems like they took all the bad elements and unfavourable conditions of service from both companies and incorporated them for drivers in the new merged company”.    
He is married and they have an eight year old daughter. Themba’s father died leaving him as the only bread winner looking after his mother and three siblings in addition to his own family. “My break ground motivates me to responsible in all aspects of life including my sexual life”.
Much of his life is spent on the road and in foreign lands where security is also a risk factor. He shared a recent story of what happened to a fellow driver in DRC. After having had sex with a local sex worker in the driver’s truck and paid the agreed amount. The sex worker hurriedly left leaving behind her panty and a handbag. Only to come back with armed police officers claiming that she had been raped. The handbag and panty in the truck were retrieved as evidence. After long hours of negotiations fellow drivers had no choice but to contribute $500 for the police and sex worker to let their friend off.
“Such is the risk in DRC that only very few drivers dare to engage the serves of sex workers. The biggest problem is in Zimbabwe and Zambia were it safe to engage isex workers. So after days and sometimes weeks in DRC, drivers ‘celebrate’ and relieve themselves in Zambia and Zimbabwe”.  
In DRC they spend as much as 22 day before travelling back. With a daily allowance of only $4 a day to buy all meals, water and other daily necessities Temba and his fellow drivers recently went on strike while in the DRC. It had to take the intervention of the Zimbabwean Ambassador to the DRC to intervene on the drivers behalf and now they are getting a daily allowance of $10. However, this falls far short as other drivers from other companies get $20 a day. Even then these amounts are nowhere near the amounts the companies charge as drivers daily allowances to their customers.
“When I get to Harare I only have a few hours with my family. I leave the truck at the depot early evening and I am expected to be back to collect my truck and be on the road first thing in the morning. The return journey from South Africa if I am lucky the same arrangement will apply otherwise I am made to avoid passing through Harare altogether”.
Their company does not allow them to travel with their wives otherwise a driver will be fired. The company claims that they do not have the facilities to accommodate wives and yet depots and truck stops along the way have facilities for women too.
“Some of us do smuggle and travel with our wives once in a while. It is of course a big risk but it is a risk worth taking as opposed to risk getting HIV along the way. But do we honestly have to do this. It should just be one of our conditions of service that we are able to take our wives with us should we wish to do so.
Our wives demonstrated recently at our company premises in Harare demanding that we get more time at home and better working conditions”.
Like most sectors now in Zimbabwe, the transport sector is highly competitive with thousands looking for jobs. For fear of loosing heir jobs and the bureaucratic involved in labour disputes a lot of driver have little choice but to work under conditions that are generally not acceptable including making them vulnerable to HIV.  

“I have benefited greatly from the regular HIV and AIDS discussions we hold with Sister Shami (NECTOI Chirundu Site Agent) and the information she gives us. As a result I get tested for HIV on a regular basis at the Wellness Roadside Clinic. She has motivated me to be an HIV and AIDS advocate among my fellow drivers. I sometime accompany or bring my friends to test for HIV”.

 

 

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

News and Events