Sex workers adopt innovative strategies for survival


IT is just after midday in Harare’s Avenues area, for long branded the city’s hottest red-light district, and Mary Mutoko (not real name) stands on a street corner, dressed in sexually suggestive attire.


Mutoko is alert, as she peers into every passing vehicle hoping to entice clients.

Cars drive past, with some drivers and passengers appearing to be succumbing to Mutoko’s seductive gestures.

She is a sex worker who, according to a vendor selling his ware close to her “workstation”, has over five years’ experience.

Of late, sex workers who have traditionally operated under the cover of darkness due to the stigma associated with their profession are now forced to stretch their working hours into broad daylight due to stiff competition.

The trade has been flooded by younger women out of school in a jobless economy, who are forcing veterans of the trade to up their game.

“Sister Mary has survived. She has been here for long and she still has the touch,” the vendor told the NewsDay crew.
While they were traditionally known for conducting their business in bars, today’s sex workers have become more sophisticated in pursuit of the elusive dollar.

A motorist solicit for sex from sex workers along Third street  (2)

“Getting into a bar is now expensive and if you are unlucky for the night, you will end up using your money to buy drinks and go home empty-handed. It is easy to come and stand here, unlike in a bar,” said Mutoko after she was persuaded to join a “boys’ talk” involving the vendor and the news team.

She would jump in and out of the conversation, as her eyes were fixed on passing cars.

While there, one vehicle passed by and the driver called out for airtime. Surprisingly, it was Mutoko who delivered the airtime in “the-milkman-doesn’t-only-deliver-milk” style. Mutoko took the airtime card to the driver as a way of “marketing her merchandise”.

“It is another way to market themselves these days. We give them airtime to take to customers and that is when they seduce the guys,” the vendor explained.

Investigations showed that while the number is small during the day, the Avenues area has become a “war zone” at night, as the ladies of the night flood the streets and strategically position themselves to capture the attention of potential clients.

The scantily-dressed women, however, have also been hard-hit by the economic crisis and instead of charging between $10 and $15, they can agree to as little as $3 for “a quickie” or “short-time” session.

They, however, offer some “extremes”, which they say go up to as much as $20.

It was also observed that “small girls” from populous suburbs have been victims of bullying from their “sisters in the game”, who feel that the $3 charge is not good for business.

It also emerged that those who felt competition tightening, in the usually congested city centre and Avenues, have taken to major roads out of town.

One such place is at the corner of Enterprise Road and Samora Machel Avenue, stretching towards Eastlea Shopping Centre, where a few women patiently wait for their catch, far from the Avenues’ madding crowd.

The news team’s lenses captured some ladies along the way, only to realise that some of the other women now have “offices” in Queensdale along Chiremba Road, where they also wait.

NewsDay also learnt of a new strategy the sex workers have devised. They carry small travelling bags as if they are either going somewhere or have just arrived and are waiting for someone to pick them up at a hotel.

This was observed and confirmed by the concierge at a local hotel.

“They then pretend to be desperate and since men usually take advantage, they do not want to appear as if they have hired a sex worker, so they try to nurture a relationship,” someone, who fell for the ruse said.

“You can’t miss the ladies because they stand strategically where you can see them. They appear desperate and will ask for your phone to call a ‘boyfriend’ who had invited her from out of town. They usually say Bulawayo or Victoria Falls.”

The women then say they have no money for accommodation and no relative or friend in Harare, painting a picture of desperation.

“You then rush to organise accommodation, take her there and the next morning, you pay for her transport and other expenses.
Usually they make sure one parts with no less than $50,” he said.

Some sex workers have resorted to using social media, particularlyWhatsApp, to lure potential clients by inserting pictures of naked women and charge at least $5 to be sent through EcoCash so that you begin negotiations.

NewsDay also gathered that some have become sophisticated and advertise in local newspapers as running beauty parlours, offering massages and “some extras” at an additional cost.

A phone call to one of the “beauty parlours” was answered by a female and upon inquiry she said massage goes for $20, while she was quick to say they also offered more than a body massage.

It turned out the offer could go up to a sexual encounter. The “beauty parlours” are popular in areas like Chadcombe, Queensdale and Mabelreign.

While the economy continues to shrink, what sex workers agree on, like in any other business is the change of game plan, all for the need of money and ultimately, survival.


  1. Newsday just call them by their proper name/noun cause a lot people dont the term sex worker the are Prostitutes or Mahure these are people who have stopped respecting themselves and spread diseases together with their male friends,strangely there dont seem to be a corresponding increase in the number of male thieves may male prostitutes these are probably gays/ngochani but dont have statistics.Ngavakandwe muchizarira together with the man who has rundown the economy.

  2. Just yesterday, friday when i was taking a walk, some ladies approached me. They were saying exactly what you have said in the article. I lied to them saying the $10-00 they were charging is not enough and i would cough up to $50-00. I told them to wait for me and i went for good. I think they waited and waited thinking i would come. Its better for these ladies to sell tomatoes.

  3. You are all arguing over a none issue, prostitution is sex work. Regardless of the title used, it is illegal. However i find it lofty for the majority of us to be castigating these women and calling them out for doing something “socially and morally wrong”. Some if not all of the people that have commented here and possibly the author of the article has been involved in corruption in one form or another. That too is morally wrong. Just because your sin seems (in your eyes if i may add), less serious does not mean you are clean yourself. Our society is morally corroded. Maybe we should be addressing the root cause of that and not the symptoms as we are doing. I dont condone or agree with their work but neither do i condone corruption, adultery or other ills bedevilling our society.

  4. i seen soome women( some pregnant) pushig zvingoro zvemukaka and icecream, doing honest work kuti zvibatane…

  5. Denigrating your sisters mothers and daughters just because yoù in a better place in wrong. Mostly cases of women ending up doing this kind of work is deeply rooted in a background of violence and abuse not excluding extreme poverty and outright desperation.

    With a comatose economy in a country with over 90% unemployment rate vulnerability of women rears it’s ugly head manifesting as things like these were out of desperation women not by choice are forced to sell their bodies.

    Victims of circumstances and sex economics at play.


Comments are closed.