January disease hits sex workers

HARARE - Commercial sex workers are singing the blues as potential clients reel from a cash squeeze associated with the “January disease”.

Hard pressed with school fees and debts accruing from the festive season, most potential clients are staying at home or offering a pittance, leaving sex workers hanging dry.

The situation is most telling in the country’s oldest province of Masvingo, where commercial sex work is usually rampant.

 It is 3am and a dozen ladies of the night mob the only two male patrons sipping on their last glasses of beer at Ritz Night Club.

With only 30 minutes to go before the night club is closed, the ladies make some last minute attempts to win the hearts of the only remaining potential clients seated in a dark corner of the bar.

Desperately gyrating to the beat, there is no joy for the ladies’ efforts, as the men finish their beer and walk out of the club alone after a seemingly boring Friday night punctuated by poor attendance.

The ladies, shaking their heads out of frustration, move over to the parcel counter and collect their hand bags ready to go back home empty-handed.

Such has been the crisis facing commercial sex workers as the so-called January disease hits hard.

Their clients, who usually visit city pubs in droves, are nowhere to be seen as they are forced to stay at their homes due to the “disease” caused by heavy spending during the festive holidays and January school fees.

A survey by Weekend Post in and around the city joints revealed that ladies of the night were facing a rough ride.

The ladies, who prey on patrons and usually go back home with fat wallets, say they wished January never existed.

“Things are pretty bad for us. We usually make a killing after attracting so many clients per night at our local pubs but its different this month as the men are very broke,” said Tiara Mabika at Ritz Night Club.

Business has hit an all-time low at pubs such as Marry Me in Rujeko, Sarudzai, Farai, Mangoyongoyo and Rusununguko night spots in Mucheke, usually patronised by hookers.

Pinky Mazuru says in a good month they can rake in around $60 to $100 a night after doing a few quickies popularly known in their business circles as “short time”, including taking the “catch” of the night home.

They charge from $5 to $15 for a quickie depending on the day of the week and month, while sleeping with a client the whole night attracts as much as $30.

“We are used to getting at least $60 a night after doing about four to five short times before getting a client to go with home and charge him about $30 or even $40. So if you add up the money on good days you get even a $100,” said Pinky .

But she said all has not been rosy in January as they were hardly getting clients, making their lives miserable.

The ladies say due to circumstances beyond their control, they are even failing to fend for their small families.

“We are really in a bad situation due to the effects of this month.

“Buying food for my two kids at home has become a nightmare since I do not have cash as our clients are broke,” said a lady of the night who identified herself as Mai Two.

She added that apart from buying food they needed money to pay rentals, water and electricity bills among other requirements needed by any urban dweller.

Moving around city joints over the weekend, the atmosphere there was different as pubs were unusually empty, with a few clusters of ladies of the night dancing hopelessly to attract the few men inside.

Men who usually frequent the pubs were nowhere to be seen as they could hardly buy themselves a few beers.

Some few men who entertained questions from this reporter said the situation was dire, with little disposable income. The men said they had loads of pressure in January  as they have to pay school fees for their children after spending a lot during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

“The reason why we are not patronising our usual drinking spots and in turn making life difficult for the ladies of the night who prey on us is because January is demanding.

“We have a lot to take care of, so no one can sacrifice the little you have, to cater for the night ladies,” said Bla Tichman from Mucheke.

“We have to pay fees for the school just opening, buy uniforms, food for our families and don’t forget we spent hard recklessly during the festive season.

However, other prostitutes decried the criminalisation of commercial sex work in the city, saying if it was a legitimate profession,they could have had professional entities that could cushion them under such hard times.

Last year Thabitha Khumalo, the MDC Member of Parliament for Bulawayo East, signed a petition calling for the decriminalisation of prostitution.

“Every time I get a chance to speak in Parliament I will speak of the decriminalisation of prostitution,” she said.

“It (prostitution) is here to stay and we need to bite the bullet. Who in their right mind will deny it? We will have to embrace it, whether we like it or not,” Khumalo said.

Weekend Post also carried a survey at night spots in other districts where the picture was also gloomy.
In Gutu, Ngundu, Bikita and Chiredzi, the bars were also empty.

“Even here along the busiest highway, Beitbridge-Harare road, business is low, despite the fact that our clients are always passing by.

“We mainly depend on haulage truck drivers and other travellers but this time around, it is all quiet. We hope the situation will not remain like this as the year progresses, otherwise we will be pushed out of business,” a lady of the night said at Ngundu Growth Point.

The ladies of the night said although their job has not been spared  the effects of January, they hoped that the coming months will change for the better. — Weekend Post

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