Women dressed in skimpy outfits laugh carelessly and make obscene gestures hoping to attract men passing by. Some of the men cannot resist the temptation and, after whispered exchanges, they disappear into a nearby disused rail wagon.
A young man with unkempt hair is sniffing glue from a plastic bottle, sitting precariously on one of the wagons showing no interest in the women’s affairs and when he makes his sentiments known to the other women, all hell breaks loose. There is a heated exchange of vulgar words.
Disused rail wagons along Lytton Road in the Workington industrial area have been home to street children for years. Some of the street children have family set-ups where they take turns to look after their “home”.
The street kids claim that hookers have invaded their home and take advantage of their absence during the day, when they will be out scavenging for food and other valuables in the city centre, to turn their home into a “brothel”.
“Prostitutes are disturbing our peace here. Sometimes we discover used condoms and traditional juju in our apartments.
Our blankets (card board boxes) are torn and they leave the place in a mess. We have tried to talk to them, but they rebuke us using obscene words, shouting obscenities and sometimes we end up having fights,” said one street kid identified as Simon.
The sex workers, however, accused the street kids of being naughty as they often disturbed the former when they would be entertaining clients.
“This is business.
These kids just pop in, fidgeting, and our clients feel uncomfortable about being seen in the act. They are the menace. No one owns these wagons here. They belong to the National Railways of Zimbabwe.
They should learn to co-habit with us or ship out,” said Rumbi, one of the sex workers. The sex workers claim that they are making a lot of money since men from the surrounding industries frequent the place to “relieve” themselves.
“We have our peak hours during lunch and after work and that is when most men come here. Our services are affordable because these guys (in the industries) don’t earn much. Some men, however, come from as far as the central business district,” Rumbi added.
“The street kids are jealous of us because we are better off than them. When we started, we paid them for the lodgings and they kept on increasing the rentals so we decided to stop payment and they got angry.
Sometimes they just budge in demanding services yet they don’t have the money. They think we enjoy this, but the truth is, it’s just business.” One of the urchins — now an adult — Tonderai Gumbe, said he had been living in one of the wagons since 2000.
He had a family with another street dweller aged 15 after which he said he “renovated” the wagon they now live in.
“When I started living here, the wagon had no roof and I had to construct a makeshift roof so that during the rainy season I would not get soaked.
But these women (sex workers) just come here and do whatever they feel like doing. But I will not give up without a fight,” said Gumbe.
One man who works for a nearby bakery said most men know what was happening because sometimes they frequented the place soliciting for services of the sex hawkers.
He also said of late there were scuffles that often degenerated into fist fights between the sex workers and the street children. “They usually operate at railway tracks waving and giving signs to prospective clients, but I guess when the business is low they do come near the industries, scantily dressed in groups wooing customers,” he said.
National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) promised some time ago to remove disused rail wagons. They removed some and left a few which have become the centre of contention between the sex workers and the street dwellers.
NRZ public relations manager FanuelMasikati is, however, on record professing ignorance about the activities of sex workers, but acknowledges that the wagons belonged to them and were supposed to be moved to their workshops away from the public.
“We have plans to move these wagons and we do not condone any activities going on at that site and encourage members of the public to stay away,” he said. A police officer based at Southerton Police Station said they had witnessed an increase of violence and theft around the area.
“We have heard worrying cases of men being robbed and beaten up. There is hardly a week which passes without these incidents. We urge members of the public not to engage in these activities.
We are living in dangerous times and the long arm of the law will catch up with those who are either living illegally on State property (rail wagons) or those who are doing illegal things such as prostitution,” said the officer.
Social commentator Pardon Taodzera urged the relevant authorities to remove the locomotives and the police to restore order.
“This is lawlessness. People know these things are happening and they remain quiet. The relevant authorities should put measures in place.
Prostitution is not legalised in the country yet people do it during daylight and get away with it. People need behavioural change especially if we want to have an HIV-free generation.
“The stories of street children living in these wagons have been told a million times, but nothing has been done.
Some of the disused rail wagons have been there for more than a decade and NRZ have done nothing over the years. If they don’t want the wagons, the company should just dispose them because they have become a haven of social ills. It is not good for their publicity,” said Taodzera.