As many people shun lodges because they are expensive, the owners have resorted to cashing in on prostitutes seeking private spaces in which to conduct their business.
During the day, lodges clustered around Harare’s leafy Avenues area offer services to anyone who needs the rooms.
When night falls, the place suddenly becomes a beehive of activity, with preferential treatment being given to prostitutes who fork out as much as $10 for just 30-minute use of the rooms.
One of the popular lodges-cum-brothels is located near a night club and because of its proximity, it is usually “fully”booked from Friday to Sunday every week.
One would hardly think the place shelters prostitutes and sex-starved men under the cover of darkness.
The owner of the lodge said he was realising brisk business from the clients, but was evasive when asked if the lodge was registered.
“We are surviving in the business. Our clients are obviously sex workers and their clients and we give incentives to those prostitutes who recommend us to their clients,” he said.
“The lodge was once registered, but the licence has since expired and I do not think we still meet the standards required by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA).”
This is typical of many lodges that have mushroomed in low-density suburbs in Harare, although most of the lodges-cum-brothels are located in the Avenues, regarded as Harare’s prime red light district.
The lodges charge different amounts depending on the amount of time a couple would spend in a room.
“We are usually charged different prices depending on the client’s request. Some are willing to spend the whole night and they are charged between $10 and $40, depending on the service the lodge offers.
“For ‘short’ time, the owner can charge as little as $3,” explained a self-proclaimed sex worker who identified herself as Melody.
The greatest drawback for amassing a windfall are the car parks and pirate taxis offering the same services in the same neighbourhood.
Security guards manning the premises have joined the bandwagon, charging as little as R5 if the sex worker and her clients prefer using the premises.
One guard said commuter omnibuses were attracting many “service seekers” than any other model of car because they are more spacious.
“We no longer charge parking fees to kombi drivers. We just ask them not to lock the doors of their car,” said one security guard.
In Westlea, sex workers who frequent popular night clubs are known to use a house-cum-brothel near the shopping centre.
There is a two-roomed wooden cabin at the house which is used for their “sexcapades”.
The owner usually charges about $2 for providing the shelter. Many people have expressed concern at the increase in brothels operating right at their doorsteps.
“Children are inquisitive by nature. These lodges were licensed to be guest houses, but children peep in and know what is happening inside. Condoms are thrown around. They should at least find a way of disposing of them,” one concerned mother, Thandiwe Ncube, said.
There are reports that even registered lodges have joined the bandwagon and many are cashing in on the “lucrative” business.
Police are said to be aiding and shielding the prostitutes and the owners who have turned their lodges into brothels.
“We no longer fear the police. In fact, we have built a strong relationship with some of them. Some ask for money and others want our services for payment,” said Melody.
A lodge should have an operating licence from the ZTA, but many lodges do not have the required papers or the licence would have expired. Some of the lodges have depleted facilities which upon inspection by the relevant authorities face closure.
ZTA acting chief executive Givemore Chidzidzi said they were going to clamp down on the illegal lodges.
Two years ago, the ZTA, with assistance from the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, the police and Harare Municipality, embarked on an operation which saw several unregistered lodges closing down.
A sociologist who lectures at a Harare college, Aaron Mponda, said the influx of brothels was a result of deep-rooted social problems.
“In Zimbabwe, it is illegal to solicit for sex. Deterrent measures should be put in place to root out the world’s oldest profession. If we succeed in that, then the problem of brothels will face a natural death.
“Even if the government closes all the lodges, prostitutes will improvise. They will simply turn to other forms of accommodation.
“In fact, they have started to ‘look east’ by introducing kombis in the picture,” Mponda said.
“However, the owners of lodges should know their business jurisdiction because if they continue to trade on illegal waters, the long arm of law will finally catch up with them.”