MASVINGO — After guzzling at shebeens and bars in high-density suburbs where beer is cheaper, many drunken revellers in Masvingo town troop into the dingy nightclubs in the city centre late into the night.
BY TATENDA CHITAGU
In the early hours of the night, the resort town’s central business district (CBD) — usually dull during the day — transforms into a red-light district as echoes of full blast music awaken the sleepy city.
Women dressed in skimpy nightwear spring into action — literally hunting for clients — some walking suggestively and provocatively.
Long-distance haulage truck drivers, who would have taken a rest for the night, jump from their trucks and troop into the clubs, notorious for having more female patrons than male ones.
Truckers have become their trusted clients because they usually have ready cash and can part with it without batting an eyelid.
Some of the prostitutes come from as far as Mashava and Zvishavane, towns that have turned into ghost settlements following the closure of asbestos mines, leaving thousands of people living in abject poverty.
The thigh vendors, some as young as 14, also come from Masvingo’s high-density suburbs, villages and growth points around the resort town, where hunger and poverty have taken root.
Because they are desperate, they are willing to offer themselves even for a small fee. They do not hesitate to approach men soliciting for paid sex.
For the thigh vendors, Masvingo is a ready market because of the high volume of people that travel between Harare and Beitbridge en route to South Africa.
Investigations by Standardcommunity established that some of the ladies of the night frequently travel from Beitbridge, about 300 kilometers away, looking for “greener pastures” in the resort town.
Masvingo is equidistant to Beitbridge and Harare.
Health experts have said prostitution, fuelled by poverty, has resulted in the upsurge of cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the province.
Figures released by the National Aids Council (NAC) recently indicate that 10 000 people in the province have contracted STIs within three months from April to June this year.
NAC provincial Aids co-ordinator, Evos Makoni said the province recorded 10 110 STI cases, the highest figures recorded in any province in the country.
“From the statistics at hand, Masvingo has the highest density of STIs in Zimbabwe with 10 110 cases having been recorded from April to June this year,” he said. “The most common ones are for gonorrhoea, syphilis and chancroid.”
Of the 10 110 people infected,6 409 were females while 3 701 cases were of men.
Makoni said Chiredzi and Gutu districts had the highest number of recorded cases.
Makoni said they are probing to find out why there has been an upsurge in cases of STIs in the province.
He however hinted that early indicators pointed to the transmission of the STIs coming from South Africa where most people from Masvingo travel as cross border traders or to do menial jobs.
But the thigh vendors are not worried about the high incidences of STIs in the province. They view STIs as a “professional hazard”.
One of the ladies, who only identified herself as Irene from Ngundu, said she had no other option except to sell her body.
“After my husband dumped me and left for South Africa at the height of the economic downturn, I had no other means of survival to feed our two children,” she said. “He has never returned, six years after, and he never phoned. I had no option but to sell my body. I realised I was literally sitting on a gold mine.”
Irene said she charges between US$5 and US$10 for a sex session, depending on the client, as well as his negotiating skills.
“It all depends on how I rate the client, as well as how they negotiate. But if it’s for the whole night, that is US$30 to US$40 dollars,” she said, adding that she was not worried about contracting STIs as it was a risk associated with the “profession”.
On Friday and Saturdays, when “business is brisk”, she rakes in around US$60, mostly from short sex sessions, meaning she sleeps with as many different men as is possible in a single night.
Because most men are reluctant to book lodges, they usually have sex in cars or alleys, and she would not be able to take a bath after each session.
For those who demand unprotected sex, said Irene, “I charge more because I will be risking my life.”
Petronela Mugoti (16), another lady of the night said: “I cannot die of hunger when I know a lot of men out there want me. I have to use my body at its prime. As for STIs, I can get treated. If I become infected with HIV, I will also take ARVs [Anti-retroviral drugs] like others are doing and survive for 20 or more years.”