Calls to free HIV-pos­i­tive serial ‘hyena’ get louder

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide/opinion -

BLAN­TYRE — An HIV-pos­i­tive Malaw­ian man who claimed to have had sex with more than 100 women and girls is at­tract­ing sym­pa­thy from sev­eral quar­ters.

The sym­pa­this­ers, who in­clude some jour­nal­ists and chiefs, have called for the im­me­di­ate re­lease of Eric Aniva.

Aniva’s sex­ual con­quests came to light in Malawi when a lo­cal tele­vi­sion sta­tion, Times and later BBC in­ter­viewed him. In both in­stances, he ad­mit­ted that he was a paid sex worker, known as a “hyena”. “I pro­vide sex­ual cleans­ing ser­vices. For in­stance, if a man dies, his wife is re­quired by tra­di­tion to sleep with a hyena be­fore she can bury him. If a woman has an abor­tion, again sex­ual cleans­ing is re­quired,” said Aniva.

He also re­vealed that teenage girls were “sex­u­ally cleansed” af­ter their first men­stru­a­tion to mark their pas­sage from child­hood to wom­an­hood. Ac­cord­ing to cul­ture, it was said that if the girls re­fused, some mys­te­ri­ous dis­ease or fa­tal mis­for­tune could be­fall their fam­i­lies, or the vil­lage as a whole.

Jose Sa­farao, a columnist for a lo­cal news­pa­per re­cently ar­gued that ar­rest­ing Aniva was wrong and un­jus­ti­fied, brand­ing him as a vic­tim of cul­tural cir­cum­stances.

“Ar­rest­ing Aniva is like treat­ing the symp­toms rather than the dis­ease. Aniva did not go look­ing for wid­ows and ado­les­cents to sleep with. They hired him; ‘they’, mean­ing cus­to­di­ans of cul­ture in his com­mu­nity. They even paid him to do it. Ar­rest­ing Aniva will not stop the ‘hyena’ cul­ture,” he ar­gued.

Ac­cord­ing to Sa­farao, cus­to­di­ans of the cul­ture would con­tinue to se­cretly hire “hye­nas” and make them vow never to talk to the me­dia. “Deal with the cul­ture. Aniva just hap­pens to be a small ac­tor in the scheme of things, and his ar­rest is of no con­se­quence,” he ob­served in his col­umn pub­lished in The Sun­day Times of Malawi.

He added: “Ar­rest cus­to­di­ans of the cul­ture. Ar­rest the par­ents who ac­cepted that Aniva should sleep with their chil­dren. Ar­rest whole vil­lages, if not the en­tire tribe, which, in a way, means ar­rest no one.”

The columnist ar­gued that if the law said the “hyena” cul­ture was banned, ev­ery­one would be­gin to un­der­stand that it was an il­le­gal thing to do, and, short of that, Aniva was a scape­goat.”

Com­ment­ing on the same is­sue, the edi­tor of The Daily Times, In­no­cent Chi­tosi, said that many Malaw­ians were aware of the risky tra­di­tions be­ing prac­tised in their ar­eas and hence it was wrong to have one sacri­fi­cial lamb.

“It is to­tally in­hu­mane for Malawi to de­liver Aniva to the fir­ing squad. If any­thing, we have to round up po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious lead­ers, as well as all the chiefs of the dis­trict. Th­ese are all ac­com­plice to the crimes that Aniva, the hyena, has been com­mit­ting,” he wrote in his col­umn Pick & Choose.

He added: “But all Malaw­ians have been aware about the risky cul­tural prac­tices, not only in Nsanje but also in the other dis­tricts. As such, Pres­i­dent Mutharika should lead all of us into jail be­cause we are part of this crime. If this sounds ab­surd, then ar­rest­ing Aniva on such crime is ut­ter non­sense.”

Ac­cord­ing to Chi­tosi, what Malawi needed was the in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of be­havioural change ad­vo­cacy. “We need to de­mys­tify is­sues of mis­car­riage, still births and the like. Our peo­ple must be re­deemed from that bondage of fear.”

Tra­di­tional lead­ers also joined those call­ing for the re­lease of Aniva, who was now be­ing re­ferred to as “Malawi’s hyena man”.

“The case is be­ing blown out of pro­por­tion. Some forces have de­clared to­tal war on the cul­ture of the Shire Val­ley,” said Foster Tchale, spokesper­son of Chief Malemia of south­ern Malawi’s dis­trict of Nsanje.

Aniva’s sec­ond wife, 24-year-old Funny, also de­manded the im­me­di­ate re­lease of her hus­band.

She said the ar­rest which came af­ter the or­der from Malawi Pres­i­dent Peter Mutharika had greatly af­fected the fam­ily. Ac­cord­ing to Funny, Aniva had stopped con­duct­ing “sex­ual cleans­ing” a long time ago. “How can they ar­rest him for an old story?” she asked. Funny said the ar­rest had a huge neg­a­tive im­pact on the fam­ily which was strug­gling to get food, with the bread­win­ner in cus­tody.

“My fel­low vil­lagers are also ridi­cul­ing me, with some say­ing since my hus­band is a hyena, I am also a fe­male hyena. Just imag­ine, I am be­ing given dif­fer­ent names, yet I have not com­mit­ted any crime,” she said.

Much as Aniva had sym­pa­this­ers, hu­man rights groups wanted him pros­e­cuted for abus­ing girls and women in the name of cul­ture.

The United Na­tions En­tity for Gen­der Equal­ity and the Em­pow­er­ment of Women (UN Women) in a state­ment has lauded Mutharika for his swift re­sponse to the is­sue. — AFP

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