HARARE - Deep in Mashonaland Central nestles the small compound town, Concession and driving through, one cannot resist admiring the fertile plains fit for agriculture.
Beyond the usual agricultural activity and the drinking of kachasu, an illicit brew popular in the area, is a new occurrence in which retired sex workers are now training the new crop in matters of reproductive health and engaging in safe sex.
Most Zimbabweans wonder what happens to sex workers after they become old and retire, after all a new crop joins the trade everyday.
Lima Mankarankara, 66, said she and her peers had started a “consultancy service” for the new crop of sex workers in the area, to stay relevant in the industry.
“Tinovati vauye tovadzidzisa kubata varume nekushandisa ma condoms (We teach them how to handle clients well and the proper use of condoms).
“Men take advantage of girls, so this is a way of making sure the girls stay safe and avoid unwanted babies while getting a little something for ourselves,” Mankarankara added.
She said the girls show appreciation for the lessons through money or food for the consultancy provided. “Some of the girls are underage and cannot access condoms, so we give them the condoms because as much as we hate to admit it, the girls are already in business at the age of 12,” the elderly woman said.
The consultancy is done at Mankarankara’s desolate thatched hut with cracked walls, but the girls do not mind the surroundings as they claim the elderly women are there to protect their rights.
Together with three other retired sex workers, Mankarankara runs the organisation and procures sanitation, condoms and pregnancy test kits.
The inside of the hut is almost a different affair from its shabby outside; the environment is almost sterile as a hospital environment.
Mankarankara said they keep the hut clean as it is their “office”
“The women who come to us trust us with their lives so we have to show them we can be trusted. The way our office looks goes a long way in establishing the relationship we have with our clients,” she said.
Dalitso Mwale, one of Mankarankara’s clients said the women did not ask for money in return for their services.
“We sometimes give them the money as a token of appreciation, however, they are grandmothers and have daughters who have ventured into the trade and they want to avoid teen pregnancies,” said Mwale.
Mwale, who has a five-year old son, said she had ventured into prostitution as a way of sustaining her siblings as they are orphans.
“Because we did not have a service like the one ana ambuya (Mankarankara and crew) are running, I fell pregnant.
“Thankfully I did not get the virus but this taught me to be careful all the time. Now because of the service, a lot of girls like me will be saved from the trauma of having an unwanted child and HIV,” she said.
Sex work is not officially criminalised in Zimbabwe but criminalised acts include running a brothel and profiting from prostitution.
However, it is difficult to prove guilt under the more specific legislation governing prostitution and, therefore, miscellaneous criminal and local laws are applied to act as a deterrent and a punishment to sex workers.
Sex workers are often arrested and detained for soliciting, blocking the pavement and tarnishing the image of the local area.
The current liquidity crunch in the country has pushed even university graduates into the oldest profession. It has been reported that most families are living on R5 a day.
Zimbabwe’s unemployment levels are escalating at astronomical rates despite promises from the Zanu PF-led government that at least 2, 2 million jobs would be created after they clinched an election win.
At least 30 000 graduates churned out from universities and tertiary colleges every year are resorting to desperate measures, with some forced into menial jobs including vending.
The country’s unemployment rate tops 85 percent and additional people are becoming jobless every day as more firms shut down citing harsh economic conditions.
A recent survey by the National Social Security Authority (Nssa) showed 711 companies in Harare went bust in the period July 2011 to July 2013, rendering 8 336 individuals jobless.
This is an addition to more than 90 companies that have closed shop in Bulawayo since 2010, with more than 20 000 workers thrown into the streets.