Shops by day, brothels at night as sex workers flock to downtown Harare

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By Darlington Gatsi

AS the sun eclipses into its orbit, dusk marks an end of day for some.

Huge congestion of vehicles line along major roads with people heading to their respective residences after a day of toiling in the central business district (CBD).

An end of day to the majority of people is a beginning of a day to female commercial sex workers in Harare as they sprout in the street corners.

Upper areas of Harare CBD, demarcated by Samora Machel avenue popularly known as ‘Avenues’ used to be zones of female commercial sex workers, with flashy cars frequenting there.

However female commercial sex workers have since encroached into the heart of CBD with Nelson Mandela and Chinhoyi street gaining popularity each passing day.

Clad in a blue short dress, thighs shiny, a cleavage revealing, *Susan Mupanduki scouts for prospective clients along Chinhoyi street.

Mupanduki tells what pushed her from the usual avenues area to the downtown of Harare.

“Women have been pushed into commercial sex work due to economic meltdown which has resultantly led to shrinking of employment opportunities.”

According to Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat), 59,6% of women in the country were unemployed and many of them were apparently turning to commercial sex work to eke out a living.

A report by National AIDS Council (NAC) titled, ‘Zimbabwe situational analysis of drug use in five provinces to inform HIV and TB programming for people who use drugs’, released last year revealed that Harare had a high number of commercial sex workers.

“In Harare the most often mentioned source of income is sex work (36,07%); the higher rate in this province is linked to the mobilisation strategy, which include recruitment of respondents in an area where sex work takes place,” read the report in part.

Shops turned brothels

Female commercial sex workers target nearby nightclubs, bars downtown for their potential clients.

But where do they host their clients with no motels and BnBs in the downtown area?

Female commercial sex workers have resorted to using shops along Chinhoyi street to host their clients.

With most shops closing around 18:00, female commercial sex workers have found a perfect haven which they use to cash up money.

Security personnel that guard most of the premises connive with sex workers to use inside shops and backyard spaces for a ‘tip’.

“We got into this trade not by choice but circumstances forced some of us. If you look around here there is no place for privacy which some of our clients want if they want a nice time.

“Most clients who come here do not have cars so the shops offer privacy. You cannot just let money go,” said another hooker *Charmaine Mushonga.

Prices range from US$3 TO US$5 for short time of pleasure with those requiring extended time not exceeding a night forking out US$15.

According to Harare City Council spokesperson Innocent Ruwende it is illegal for shops to run parallel operations outside those stipulated on their licences.

“It is illegal because shops are given licences according to what they applied to use them. Anything other than the business they registered to operate is illegal,” said Ruwende.

NB:* Names have been changed to protect the identities of sexual workers.