Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
DURING the day, the alleys, streets and pavements belong to people who are trying to make an honest buck, but the moment light makes way for darkness, the city centre of Bulawayo belongs to practitioners of the oldest trade — sex workers.
Since the Constitutional Court, in 2015, outlawed the arbitrary arrest of women who loiter on the streets at night, sex workers of all legal ages, shapes and sizes have no reason to hide — they now openly parade themselves in the city centre.
With the cat-and-mouse game with the police a thing of the past, sex workers are increasingly territorial — they have “colonised” spaces in the city and claimed ownership of areas that they jealously guard against invaders.
Unbeknown to members of the public, there is an unwritten rule among sex workers — new entrants in the field need to establish their operating spaces without invading the territories of other sex workers.
A Saturday Chronicle news crew last Wednesday night investigated the operations of sex workers.
The news crew consisted of reporters who dressed up and posed as sex workers. Within a few minutes of “occupying” 11th Avenue and George Silundika Street, our undercover reporters were confronted by sex workers who claimed the street and avenue belonged to them.
These “street barons” summoned other sex workers to come to help them drive away the invaders.
The news crew moved to a second spot along Josiah Tongogara between 11th and 12th Avenue, and here the sex workers were direct. Some of the language they used is not printable.
They demanded that the news crew stop invading their space and issued direct threats to the trio who were posing as sex workers.
“Leave this place, I’m here searching for money for Christmas for my children. Do you want to die for men? May you just go, we don’t want to see you,” said one of the sex workers as she advanced towards them.
She even advised them to search for men in bars as the spaces were off-limits. As the news crew moved away, the sex workers laughed and celebrated getting rid of the competition.
Zimbabwe Sex Workers Alliance Bulawayo provincial chairperson Ashely Phili said sex workers have become territorial because they are many of them chasing only a few clients.
“Sex workers are territorial in behaviour and this is partly because their operations are illegal in our country. So, if they are to find a safe space to operate from and they feel more comfortable in that area and can make money within that space without being violated or abused they tend to be very protective of that area.
“They would not want anyone to come to that particular space. If someone knows that they get two to three clients per night in that spot, it becomes ideal for them unlike when three people are to come in to occupy the same space.”
She said older sex workers, who face stiff competition from young sex workers, tend to be more aggressive when defending their areas of operation.
“Older sex workers tend to think that clients want younger sex workers, so when younger sex workers come in, they tend to become more territorial. They feel threatened by the younger ones, someone fresh and when a client comes, they will opt for a younger one. And they only come to the older ones when they fail to negotiate with the younger ones,” said Phili.
She said sex workers’ occupation of a space is determined by where they reside. Phili said, for instance, it is known that the areas between 3rd and 4th Avenue are occupied by sex workers from Makokoba and Mzilikazi suburbs.
“Sometimes they are doing it for their security and if something is to happen to one of them, they will know. It is easier for them to operate from one space if they are coming from one community. To some extent it is very good to operate within the same place if you come from the same community,” said Phili.
“Being territorial is also good because there are other sex workers that come from other provinces to look for clients and you will find that some of the sex workers are very violent.
“Sex workers get violated, they get robbed and nothing is being done about it which is worrying. Recently, I received a call that one of the sex workers was raped and robbed of their money and other valuables at their house. Because sex workers tend to host their night clients in their houses. So when they were done the client robbed the sex worker of their money, cellphones and raped her.”
Phili said it was worrying that children as young as 15 years of age were involved in prostitution. She blamed lack of family support structures for fuelling the participation of minors in sex work.
“You will find someone as young as 15 living with two younger siblings and when the parents in South Africa do not send groceries or money for their upkeep the situation will drive them to prostitution automatically.”
Article Source: The Chronicle