Charles Onyango-Obbo, in Africa Review, has a piece documenting the cases of infidelity in Southern Africa involving the wives of heads of state. From Swaziland to South Africa to Zambia heads of state have had to manage spouses with “restless skirts.” Mr. Onyango-Obbo argues that part of the reason is that “Southern Africa as a region tends to have a more liberal take on sexual matters” adding that
“It is a mining region, and for over two generations men have left their families behind to go and work in the mines in a neighbouring. Some never returned, others did infrequently – often with second wives they had married. Just like lonely miners sought out newscompanionships in the new areas they worked and lived in, the wives they left at home eventually also filled the void left by their long-absent husbands.”
Although I don’t quite agree with Onyango-Obbo’s assertion that Southern Africans are more liberal when it comes to sexual matters, I do think that labor migration necessitated by the mining sector in the sub-region has had a profound impact not only on the institution of marriage but also on health outcomes. As a result the sub-region has the highest HIV infection rates in the world. I must also add that governments in the region have realized this and are trying to deal with the problem. Botswana, for instance, has an elaborate and fairly well run programme of providing HIV positive individuals with ARVs. South Africa, emerging from years of denial under Mbeki, is also trying to catch up.