he recent arrest of Zimbabwean member of Parliament Siyabonga Malandu-Ncube, accused of knowingly transmitting HIV to a Bulawayo journalist, has spotlighted an issue of great concern to Zimbabweans given the high prevalence of HIV in the country.
The Insiza South lawmaker was charged June 23 with knowingly infecting Simiso Mlevu of the B-Metro newspaper. Prosecutors earlier had hinted they would drop the case.
Malandu-Ncube, who had denied the charges saying he is HIV-negative, was also charged with sending abusive text messages to his former companion.
Sources said Attorney General Johannes Tomana involved himself in the case when the chief prosecutor in Bulawayo said he was dropping the willful transmission charge against the legislator, preferring to charge him only with sending abusive texts.
Tomana overruled the prosecutor, insisting the lawmaker should stand trial. Ncube was not asked to enter a plea and was freed on his own recognizance until July 7.
Complainant Mlevu said she had unprotected sex with Ncube between September 2009 and July 2010. Ncube says their relationship ended in June 2009.
The charge against Ncube has focused the country's attention on the recourse for those who believe a sexual partner has transmitted the potentially deadly AIDS virus as well as the consequences for those found to have done so in full knowledge of their status.
Under Zimbabwean law, prosecutors will have to prove that Ncube knew he had the disease when he engaged in relations with his accuser.
If convicted, the parliamentarian could face 20 years in jail.
Safaids Country Director Monica Mandiki said that although Zimbabwe has a law for the prosecution of willful transmission, it has rarely been applied successfully. She said in many cases victims are reluctant to place themselves in the glare of publicity and it is very difficult to prove criminal intent on the part of the alleged transmitter.
Chairwoman Martha Tolana of the Zimbabwe Network For Positive Women said that the patriarchal Zimbabwe society seemed to favor men at the expense of women.
Women provided the main impetus for passage of the law, she said, "but we have not seen positive things happening." She attributed this to cultural practices "where what a man says is given more weight than what a woman says."
National AIDS Council Programs Manager Raymond Yekeye said there are no support mechanisms for those who embark on the public process of accusing sexual partners or spouses of engaging in relations without informing them of their HIV status.