BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
Dressed in a tight black mini skirt that revealed the greater part of her legs and a matching orange top that exposed her cleavage, the 32-year-old woman tightly hugged the vehicle owner before the two disappeared into a room at the compound.
This has been the life of Khumalo, who after relocating from Budiriro high-density suburb in Harare to the neighbouring South Africa, 10 years ago, found the going tough and reluctantly turned into commercial sex work.
Today, the mother-of-two is one of many the Zimbabwean women who have invaded a small farm now popularly known as Kumavhoroso, in an area called Rooiwal located north of Pretoria.
“I came here 10 years ago and I could not find a job. This is because I do not have the required papers for me to secure a decent job. Life became tough and I left two kids back home with my mother. I had no option, but to become a commercial sex worker. This is why I came here Kumavhoroso,” she said.
When NewsDay visited Kumavhoroso recently, a number of vehicles were parked around the compound, where the commercial sex workers are booked. Outside the compound, male clients will be drinking beer and having their cars washed before those interested hook up with the sex workers for a quickie, if not a sleep over.
At the compound, about four women share a room that is furnished with small old mattresses. Most of the commercial sex workers are from Zimbabwe while others hail from the surrounding areas.
The area seems to be an abandoned small farm, but is popular with a number of men, who want to quench their sexual desires.
“Back home, I tell them that I am working in a restaurant. We are getting good bucks here especially at weekends. Some of the sex workers here work as maids during the week and come here on Friday until Sunday because business will be brisk during the weekend,” she added.
The women, who ply their trade at Kumavhoroso charge R50 for a quickie, while clients who opt for a sleep-over have to fork out about R200.
This is not Khumalo’s predicament only, a number of Zimbabwean female migrants in neighbouring South Africa have turned to prostitution to earn a living. Apart from Kumavhoroso, other areas that have become hotspots include Hillbrow Inn, Summit and Capital Inn.
Figures from South Africa’s 2011 Census suggest that 3,3% — or about 1,7 million — of the country’s 51,7 million population are “non-South African” citizens with Zimbabwe having the largest number of migrants.
Data collated by the World Bank and the United Nations in 2011 also suggests a migrant population of about 1,86 million people.
Peter Magaso, the director of Magaso-Gede Foundation, a Pretoria-based organisation that assists Zimbabwean migrants in need, confirmed that women have turned to commercial sex work and other odd jobs to earn a living.
Magaso said there is need to empower women back home, so that they engage self-sustaining projects that would stop them from crossing the Limpopo into South Africa.
“We need to empower them with practical jobs so that they become self-sustained. Our politicians in Zimbabwe must come up with projects that benefit the populace first before thinking of power so that we can bring sanity in the country. A number of women are turning to prostitution because of lack of employment, low wages as well as high cost of living in South Africa.
“The cost of living is expensive to a foreigner, and most of them left families back home. The money will be too little hence they have to supplement the meagre earning with immoral jobs. Some of the women hire children and take them to traffic robots to beg, it’s a pity,” he said.
Since the dawn of the new millennium, Zimbabwe has been experiencing a serious economic meltdown that saw a number of people migrating to other countries mainly South Africa. Most of the migrants across the Limpopo have been surviving on menial and odd jobs like working in the farms, mines, restaurants and as housemaids.
A survey conducted by this paper in both Pretoria and Johannesburg noted that a number of Zimbabwean women take to the traffic robots, awaiting for potential part-time employers who hire them to wash their clothes, clean their yards among other chores.
Top women rights, pressure group Stand director Charlene Chekenya said it is high time government creates economic and educational activities to support women and girls to avoid a situation where migrants in the neighbouring South Africa engage in unorthodox means to survive.
“It is high time the government and non-governmental organisations start taking a bolder stand in creating economic and educational activities to support women and girls. In fact the government ought to concentrate more dealing with the devastating impact of political instability which is affecting economic activities in Zimbabwe, pushing our Zimbabwean mothers and sisters to engage in shameful means of earning a living.
“Prostitution has seized to be to be a choice for our sisters and mothers, it has become a survival strategy. The time is ripe for authorities to invest more on sustainable social security measures to cater for women and girls, the most vulnerable population in the communities,” she said.
The fragile economic state has seen unemployment rising to more than 90% with the majority opting for informal jobs while the rest skip the borders in search of fortune.
With queues swelling every day at banks, the economy seems to be nowhere near normal. At this rate, more women will join Khumalo at Kumavhoroso to put food on the table.