FRANCISTOWN — Margaret Khumalo*, a sex worker at the low-income area of Itekeng or Area W, says she came to Botswana around 2007 after the economy in Zimbabwe descended into chaos.
The 27-year-old woman said lack of job opportunities back home forced her to move to Botswana to earn a living.
“To be frank, I don’t like what I am doing. Circumstances beyond my control forced me to do this. I have to support family and two young children back home,” said Khumalo, whose face is worn from worry lines.
Khumalo’s Roman Catholic beliefs are brazenly at odds with her way of life.
She is an illegal immigrant whose coming into Botswana was a big risk.
She said: “I grew up in a very religious family. I am not proud of what I am doing. But there is nothing I can do. I have to survive,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes.
Khumalo said she and her colleagues normally charge their clients P100 if the client does not use a condom, and P30 for a short time if a client uses a condom.
She said their clients were different, adding that they even had some Indians who paid a lot of money for sex the whole night.
Interestingly, Khumalo said there were some residents of Itekeng, especially old women, who were always complaining about their trade at Kgotla meetings whenever an opportunity arose.
“Although what we are doing may be contrary to African cultural norms, Batswana should understand that we have to make a living and feed our families.
“Some Batswana are also doing what we do, although our main undoing is that we go to shopping complexes and line up the streets to sell our product while some Batswana women trade sex for alcohol,” said Khumalo.
Asked if it was true that some sex workers collected semen after sex in order to sell to some traditional doctors in Zimbabwe, Khumalo said: “I have read about that in newspapers, but I am not aware of any of my colleagues who are doing that.
“Our clients are free to take their condoms for disposal if they think that we are selling their semen to traditional doctors”.
She stated that they sometimes face a challenge of some customers who do not want to pay for services rendered.
“There are some who are disrespectful and sometimes threaten to beat us or report us to the police because they know that most of us do not have passports.
“To counter this, some of the colleagues demand payment before we go on to have sex,” said Khumalo.
The other challenge, Khumalo added, was police who periodically raid places they rent before deporting them to Zimbabwe.
“Some officers are in the habit of asking us to bribe them in order to evade deportation. In some circumstances, they ask us to give them sex for free to avoid deportation.
“We have to comply with their demands because there is nothing we can do lest we are deported,” said Khumalo, adding that though she was a prostitute by night, she is also a hairdresser by day.
The chairperson of Itekeng Ward Development Committee, Benjamin Matlho acknowledged that prostitution was a problem in the area.
Matlho said prostitution was fuelled by many entertainment places in the ward.
“We need concerted efforts to fight this because of its multiple problems that are well-known,” said Matlho. The councillor for Itekeng, Lesego Kwambala was equally concerned about the scourge of prostitution in his area.
He said they were in the process of registering a society that will specifically deal with the problem of prostitution in the area.
“To successfully deal with this problem, you have to understand its cause before you attempt to solve it.
“Recently, we sat down with one of the prostitutes and she told us what made her become one. She told us that she has many children that she is taking care of in Zimbabwe.”
“Fortunately, she told us that she had saved a lot of money and we advised her to go back home and buy salon machinery in order to start a hairdressing business,” said Kwambala.
Kwambala added that the woman took their advice and has since left for Zimbabwe to start her business.
“I plead with my fellow residents not to rent out their homes to these women because most of them do not have valid passports.
“We cannot win the war against prostitution if some of us are giving them accommodation.
“The repercussions of prostitution need not be emphasised,” Kwambala said, adding that there were few sex workers in his area as compared to the past when the Zimbabwean economy was in doldrums.
Francistown police station commander, Superintendent Lebalang Maniki said they were aware that some illegal immigrants are involved in prostitution.
Maniki said the problem was widespread in the city, especially on busy streets and entertainment places in the central business district.
Although prostitution is illegal in Botswana and in some countries in the world, the profession still exists.
This illegal status puts sex workers at risk, who are considered vulnerable groups.
* Not real name.