It’s just after 12 midnight at the pub and a girl apparently in her teens and skimpily dressed jumps onto the lap of a patron where she makes suggestive dance moves and all of a sudden the lights are dimmed.
social commentary with Moses Mugugunyeki
Welcome to a night out at Norton’s Katanga suburb. here, moral decay has pervaded society and pole-dancing has turned into a lucrative source of income for women and young girls.
“It’s now part of the game to lure more patrons, who visit the clubs here in Norton. Young girls, some as young as 16, constitute a large chunk of the strippers,” said a patron in one of the three clubs famed for strip-teasing in the town.
residents are irked by the strip-teasing trade, but girls who spoke to The Standard Style said it was their only means to earn an extra dollar.
“I am not working and I dropped out of school in Form 3. I go to the clubs to look for money. I will do anything [good or bad] as long as it earns me some dollars,” said a 16-year-old girl who preferred to be called Tindo.
“There are three popular joints where stripping is done here in Norton; there is Apple Yard, Apple Baby and Flavour Yard.”
Tindo said under-age strippers constituted the majority of the performers at the joints although they faced resistance from the “old horses”.
“The older sex workers-cum-strippers complain that we are ‘stealing’ their clients, but they fail to understand that we are in competition. This is a dog-eat-dog occupation and if you have passed your expiry date, you are out of business,” she said.
“Lap-dancing fetches more money than just stripping and these older male patrons prefer us the young ones because we are full of energy.”
Tindo said she has been able to get many “clients” since she joined the strip- tease craze.
“It was difficult to attract men by merely coming into the club, but when I joined this pole-dancing business, most men would make a beeline for me after every performance,” she said.
Meanwhile, sex work is rising to alarming levels in the area. Some girls and even married women have joined the oldest profession to make ends meet.
At shopping centres in Katanga and Ngoni townships, it is a hive of activity at night, with girls as young as 13 years old servicing clients in secluded places and cars. Mostly they operate in tightly-knit peer groups.
“Most of these girls who are roaming around the shopping centre this time [11pm] are sex workers,” said a vendor at a shopping centre in Katanga.
“These girls buy cigarettes and condoms from me. Some are very young and are supposed to be in school,” he said.
Driving around the streets and shopping centres in the area at night, one comes across dozens of women and girls standing on street corners, flashing naked bodies in the light.
“This is the only way that I can make money. My parents are late and I joined prostitution to have food on my table,” said Sheila, a lady of the night.
She said she lives with a group of other sex workers in a room in Katanga.
“It’s not a brothel. We stay as a group so that we share the rent and bills,” Sheila said.
While it looks rosy for Tindo and Sheila, residents of Norton believe club-stripping and sex work are derailing efforts to curb HIV and Aids in the town.
“The response to HIV and Aids in Norton will not succeed as long as activities such as stripping at local night clubs and commercial sex work continue to thrive in this town,” said National Aids Council district coordinator for Norton Virginia Tausa.
“We have very ambitious targets that are aligned to ending Aids by 2030 and for us to meet them, we need to deal with these issues of stripping and sex work.”
According to the United Nations Women, young women and adolescent girls aged 15-24 are particularly affected by HIV.
Globally, in 2016 there were an estimated 2,4 million adolescent girls and young women living with HIV, that constitute 61% of all young people living with HIV.
In sub-Saharan Africa, women comprise 56% of new infections among adults (15 and older); and the proportion is higher among young women aged 15-24, who make up 67% of new infections among young people.
Tausa said the HIV prevalence rate among sex workers in Norton was 40%.
She said some organisations working in the area had mobilised resources to empower women, particularly sex workers although in some instances they had hit a brick wall.
“We have organisations like Ndaiziva Capacity Development Trust that are working with women, including sex workers, to be self-reliant. Some women are doing very well and others have stopped sex work as they are now empowered,” Tausa said.
Ndaiziva Capacity Development Trust director Taisekwa Sibanda said they were trying to reach out to sex workers in the area.
“We have an estimated 2 000 sex workers in Norton and our programmes are designed to reach out to all of them. “we have assisted quite a number, but, unfortunately, we have had defaulters,” she said.
Sibanda attributed the increase in sex work to poverty.
“Research shows that most of these women are pushed onto the streets by poverty. So, we try to empower them, give them capital to start projects and for many, it has worked very well,” she said.
Harare-based sociologist Yotamu Chirwa said poverty and diseases, particularly sexually transmitted infections [STIs], including HIV as well as tuberculosis, correlate positively.
“There is no doubt that diseases increase when poverty deepens. The diseases that increase with deepening poverty include the three big ones — Aids, malaria and TB — as well as those associated with substance and alcohol abuse,” Chirwa said.
“As the diseases increase, so does poverty because the ill fail to afford medical care and cannot undertake economic activities to sustain livelihoods, leading to further complications like malnutrition among pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children under the age of five”.
Chirwa said between the years 2000 and 2009 when the economic problems worsened, Zimbabwe’s mortality rates increased.
He said lack of economic opportunities and healthy food options, coupled with poverty, were contributing to staggering levels of new HIV infections.
A health official at a clinic in Katanga who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that the health centre was attending mostly to people suffering from STIs or tuberculosis.
“STIs are prevalent in this area. We cannot also rule out a high TB prevalence considering that most families live under such difficult conditions. TB thrives in such conditions and we have many cases in which most patients treated here are diagnosed with the disease,” she said.