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.
BY MOSES MATENGA
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.
“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.