Research Article

Barriers to condom use in casual sexual relationships known as ukujola in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Published in: African Journal of AIDS Research
Volume 20, issue 3, 2021 , pages: 192–203
DOI: 10.2989/16085906.2021.1951310
Author(s): Mbongeleni Thembalihle Mgwaba, South Africa, Pranitha Maharaj, South Africa


South Africa has the largest number of people living with HIV in the world. Of the nine provinces in South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal is the worst affected. HIV is largely transmitted through unprotected penetrative sexual intercourse. Male latex condoms are central to HIV prevention because of their effectiveness in preventing HIV transmission in almost all sexual encounters if used consistently and correctly. There are, however, various barriers to condom use. This study sought to unpack barriers to condom use in the context of ukujola (casual or informal sexual relationships) in a South African, isiZulu-speaking community. A generic qualitative approach was used, drawing on a range of methods — four focus groups and twenty in-depth interviews. The study was conducted exclusively with isiZulu-speaking African participants, aged 21–34 years, from the uMgungundlovu district in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Ukujola relationships encompass all casual relationships, i.e. those in which there has never been involvement of the families. The involvement of families in negotiating ilobolo (bride wealth) is a prerequisite for legitimate relationships, particularly marriage. Multiple concurrent sexual partnerships typically exist in ukujola relationships, and unprotected sex is common. The interviews suggest the existence of various barriers to condom use, including lack of trust, sexual pleasure and alcohol. There is a need for increased HIV prevention campaigns with particular emphasis on consistent condom use.

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