As the last light of day fades away, making way for the darkness of night, Nyika Growth Point in Bikita, 300km south of Harare, slowly awakes to offer its pleasures to residents of, and visitors to, this otherwise sleepy rural outpost.
While some people pack up their merchandise and go back home after a hard day’s work, revellers begin to settle in the nightspots dotting the growth point, for what promises to be a night of delights.
It is, however, only after 8pm that a number of young women make their way into the biggest, open-air nightclub.
Among them is big-built Stembile (25), who rolls in on a wheelchair, having spruced herself up for the night and made ready for work. All male eyes are glued on her, but she’s unfazed — she’s apparently a queen in her trade, and she’s so disarmingly open about it.
As the night progresses, it is clear that most of the men around wouldn’t mind a piece of this mother of one, who travelled all the way from Birchenough Bridge, 80km away, to earn a living here.
Around her, her colleagues seem to be “dirty-dancing” on the club’s stage, hoping to attract clients scattered around the bar, drinking, pretending lack of interest in the sex traders.
Stembile says Fridays to Sundays are prime business nights and on a good night, she can pocket as much as $40, which is why she laughs off this writer’s suggestion to opt for vending. “Ah, that doesn’t pay,” she laughs.
Stembile, who lost her ability to walk after suffering from nhetamakumbo (polio) many years ago, opted to come and work so far away from home to sidestep her family’s wrath.
In her line of businesses, experiences vary with each night, and Stembile is shocked by the brutality of some of her clients.
“Sometimes you wonder if they are that rough with their wives,” she muses.
She is one of the many young women who have turned to commercial sex work at this hub, which is strategically located along a highway that connects Masvingo, Chivhu, Beitbridge, Mutare, Bulawayo and Kwekwe.
Long-distance haulage truck drivers often take overnight respite at this place known for, among other things, its gochi gochi (braaing facilities).
Prostitutes of ages ranging between 15 and 35 — charge $10 to $15 per night, which can be negotiated downwards to half that price.
Short-time prices range from as little as $2 to $5.
Clients who put their money on Stembile are probably fascinated by the “novel” idea of bedding a disabled sex worker, not that her looks are not an attraction, the lure of the disability aside.
“Sometimes we just look at the client and do an assessment,” says Charity (17). “If you look bling bling, we charge you more.”
Prostitution in the area, according to Chief Marozva, has ripped through the community’s moral fabric. Hunger, which is widespread in the community, he says, has been a significant feeder of the problem.
The Chiadzwa diamond rush in 2008, recalls the chief, virtually turned Nyika Growth Point into a haven for prostitution.
“During the Chiadzwa days, women were left alone as the men went to hunt for diamonds. They had a lot money to splash out at the growth point and I’m sure in the next few years, we’ll begin to see the results of that,” says Chief Marozva.
A lot of people virtually deserted their villages in the surrounding areas to set up their base at Nyika Growth Point.
“Things were hard because the parents didn’t have anything to give their children, and when some parents thought their children were in Chiadzwa, some were virtually camped at the growth point,” he adds.
A village elder and aide to the chief, Elijah Chiseva, said a lot of children — including pupils who engaged in errant behaviour — perished at the growth point.
An organisation called Regai Dzive Shiri (Let them be birds) was then set up to embark on an extensive HIV and Aids education programme.
One of the most popular prostitutes in the area, whose reputation seems to have become legendary, had reportedly travelled to Harare for the Akon/Sean Paul show when the NewsDay crew visited Nyika Growth Point.
Because she is so young, maybe 13 or 14, they nickname her muGrade 7 (Grade 7 pupil).
Many businesses at Nyika Growth Point have long folded up due to lack of business, leaving nightclubs and bars to command the biggest chunk of the clientele.
Rugare Zvikuva (30) of Marozva Village, who works in one of the nightspots, explains the process of hooking up with the prostitutes, most of whom seemed to prefer a secretive transaction ahead of getting down to serious business.
“There are number of pimps. You just talk to one of them and go out. Soon afterwards, the pimp will tip the prostitute and you go outside to discuss business,” he says.
“When you reach an agreement, money exchanges hands and the prostitute takes you to their lodgings, which are close by.”
Encounters can last the entire night. But as the morning sun rises, the life seems to wilt out of the growth point, which slowly goes back to sleep and waits for the return of night .