Gweru’s iconic hotel now a den for sex workers

But 28 years later, the once highly regarded rooming-house is now a subject of ridicule, particularly in social media and street circles.

When the Meikle siblings, Thomas, Stewart and Jack arrived in the then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from South Africa in the late 19th century to expand their business interests, hotels were part of their dream corporate vision.

Besides other business ventures, Thomas shared a vision with Stewart to establish a hotel on a momentous site overlooking Cecil Square (now Africa Unity Square) in the centre of then Rhodesian capital Salisbury (now Harare) and November 15 1915.

This saw them opening the magnificent and internationally acclaimed five star Meikles Hotel.

The Meikle brothers’ dream of hotels did not stop there.

Twelve years later and in 1927 to be precise the brothers journeyed to Gwelo (now Gweru) to build another lodging, Midlands Hotel.

Hospitality giant Africa Sun was later to purchase one of Gweru's oldest hostels before selling the 75-room inn to maverick and shrewd late businessman-cum politician Patrick Kombayi in 1996.

Boasting of being in the heart of the Midlands capital, Midlands Hotel at one time had the honour of being accorded three star status.

But 28 years later, the once highly regarded rooming-house is now a subject of ridicule, particularly in social media and street circles.

It is now a den for sex-workers amid allegations of drug peddling at the place and abuse of young girls.

It is around 7pm on a Tuesday and the hotel lobby is swarmed by skimpily dressed women of various ages.

Drunk looking men can be seen drooling and whispering to the many scantily clad sex workers lining up the breadth of the dilapidated building.

After a few conversations men start pick their choices and are led in the dimly lit corridor upstairs to the rooms of Sodom and Gomorrah.

One of the night girls revealed to Southern Eye on Sunday that up to four of them share a room to cut on rental costs.

"So what we have done is to put makeshift beds of blankets on the floor beside the hotel bed," said one sex worker, who only identified herself as Chipo.

"So if the four of us get a catch (phrase for getting a client) it is sex galore of course with lights off."

The slim and tall  hooker said they charge between US$2 and US$5 for a short time (sex that lasts for a few minutes) and on rare whole night occasions between US$10 and US$20.

She added: “Normally we don't prefer clients, who want to spend the whole night because it disturbs the rhythm of business."

The sex hustler said a room at the hotel is pegged between US$10 and US$20 per head depending on "its quality."

In various residents WhatsApp groups the hotel's proprietor and former Gweru mayor Hamutendi Kombayi has been a subject of redicule  because of the state of the hotel.

"That the (former) mayor of the city is the owner of a hotel turned into a brothel is disgusting,” opined one resident.

He added: ‘Midlands Hotel is in the city centre and should project the image of Gweru, otherwise this place should just be closed."

Others, however, are fighting in Kombayi's corner, arguing that he cannot choose who to accommodate at his hotel.

"This is purely business and the mayor cannot choose who can or cannot stay at the hotel," said a resident only identified as Mutemeri.

In all the raging debate around Midlands Hotel being a sex haven, Kombayi has chosen to be mum.

Some residents have raised concern that the rampant sex trading in the early hours of the evening happens at a time families would be enjoying the cool breeze of the summer season.

"Imagine you are passing by with your wife and kids and there are half-dressed women all over the hotel,” complained James Chiseko, a father of three girls residing in Ascot suburb.

In November last year, a suspected sex worker operating from the hotel allegedly threw a foetus from her room.

According to reports then, a guard at the hotel discovered a freshly dumped foetus while doing perimeter checks.

Police then said preliminary investigations showed that the newly born baby appeared to have been thrown through the window from one of the hotel's rooms.

 Reports showed that one Theresa Augusto was last seen complaining of abdominal pains prior to the incident and police discovered blood-stained sandals from the room she had been using.

This unfortunate incident occurred when what was once the city’s best hotels became home to hordes of sex workers, who continue to increase by the day as the economic situation worsens.

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