It is no secret that transactional relationships in Sub-Saharan African universities have been frowned upon. In fact, there are many outreach and non-profit groups all over the continent that have dedicated themselves to combating this phenomenon and teaching students safer sex practices. Although these groups are doing good and necessary work, they are not necessarily attacking the root of the problem. These transactional relationships seem to be glorified in African media, with movies, TV shows and music celebrating them. The media often shows these girls decked out in the beautiful clothing, expensive shoes and handbags, makeup done and hair done to perfection. They are the cream of the crop on their campuses; the men on campus want to date them and the women on campus want to be them. As entertaining as these shows and movies and music, they do nothing to discourage to the fact that these relationships are wrong. Two students on the University of Zimbabwe’s campus stated:
“I can’t really say it was financial ‘coz my parents can provide. It’s just this thing, you know. It’s whereby you tell yourself like I’ve got money but I can’t use it to buy takeaways. I’ve got better things to buy. … So, if somebody is there, who will buy the takeaway for me, why not?”(Samantha, 19 years old)
“I don’t even know what drove me to be in that relationship, coz my mother’s sister has got a salon. She always says if you want to have a new hairstyle, come to me. If you have got something you need, come to me. My brother works for some NGOs [and he too says] ‘I’ll give you anything that you need’. My mother is a teacher, of course, but she’s [also] a florist. She always sends me money. Of course, I just need to be flashy on campus. That’s what I wanted” (Tendai, 20 years old)
There are shows in Africa that combat these ideologies. Shuga, an MTV Africa show, usually demonstrates the realities of these relationships in a fun and educating way, so that it resonates with the young viewers as well as educated the older viewers of the risk of engaging, and approving the engagement in the relationships. The show also teaches viewers about protecting their sexual and mental health, removing the prevalent stigma that surrounds them in Africa.
It is not enough to teach these students that these relationships are wrong, because most of them know it. The problem must be addressed by first teaching and punishing these predators for engaging in such, it must be addressed by teaching these predators that being seen in public with these young and attractive students does nothing for status or ego-boosting, it must be addressed by informing these students that these relationships are not be to marveled at and using them to become “flashy” is not worth their sexual health, it must be addressed through holding the media accountable for perpetuating these relationships, and it must be addressed by providing resources to deal with the familial relations and self-image issues that lead these students to the transactional relationships.