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 Tuesday 30 October 2007
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ZAMBIA-ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwe's sex workers look to their neighbour for business

Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Sex workers look to Zambia
LUSAKA, 26 October 2007 (IRIN) - An influx of Zimbabwean sex workers into the Zambian capital, Lusaka, is testing the government's patience with its neighbour.

Although there are no official figures for the number of Zimbabweans resident in Lusaka, unofficial estimates have put the figure at 10,000 or more, and many are said to be engaged in activities the government frowns upon.

"We have had numerous reports and concerns over Zimbabweans engaging in commercial or illicit sex," Mulako Mbangweta, a spokesperson for the immigration department, told IRIN.

"Surely we can't allow such a situation to go unattended to in this era of HIV/AIDS. Some of them have documents which say they are in Zambia for a visit, just a mere visit, but they are ending up doing businesses or taking up prostitution and, therefore, are not qualified to be mere visitors."

Zimbabwe is in its seventh year of an economic recession that has seen inflation reach more than 6,000 percent - the highest in the world - and unemployment levels of above 80 percent. It has been estimated that as many as 3 million Zimbabweans have left the country for neighbouring states, such as Zambia, Botswana and South Africa, or have gone further afield to England and the United States.

According to international donor organisations, more than a third of Zimbabwe's population, or 4.1 million people, require emergency food assistance.

Although the size of its economy makes South Africa the most favoured destination for Zimbabwe's economic migrants, there are no visa requirements for Zimbabweans travelling to Zambia and many simply stay on after their visitor's permit has expired.

"We are very much concerned about the large numbers of Zimbabweans who are entering and staying in Zambia without any proper or valid documentation. We are therefore sending them back and, at the same time, we are also blocking others from entering our country because we simply do not have the capacity to keep them here - the numbers are just too large," Mbangweta said.

Survival tactics

The Zimbabweans often survive by street vending, begging and working in the sex industry, but earlier this year the Zambian government clamped down on street vending in Lusaka, leaving sex work as the only option available to many women.

Zambia's immigration department recently raided a guesthouse in the capital where all the rooms had been rented by 51 Zimbabwean sex workers. All were immediately deported to Zimbabwe by bus. Since July, 300 Zimbabweans have been prevented from entering the country through the Southern Province border posts of Chirundu, Kazungula and Kariba.

Marjory Kwenda, a Zimbabwean cross-border trader has had to engage in sex work since the Zambian authorities enforced strict by-laws preventing vendors from trading.

"In the past, I could bring in things like sweets, chocolates and nice jewellery, which I easily sold on the streets: the market was massive and the demand was high. Now I have to sell these things in the shanty compounds [squatter camps] where few people are able to buy, and sometimes I can't even sell anything in a day," Kwenda told IRIN.

''I always insist on condom use, though some of them refuse and force me to sleep with them without using a condom. It is one of the hazards of this occupation''
"So I have been supplementing my income to sustain my stay. During the day I sell my products in these shanty compounds; at night I go to taverns and nightclubs to hook up a man or two. Zambian men are really nice because they pay for the [sex] services promptly, they don't give me any problem."

When asked whether she understood the risks of engaging in commercial sex work, Kwenda said: "I always insist on condom use, though some of them refuse and force me to sleep with them without using a condom. It is one of the hazards of this occupation, but there is nothing much one can do about such circumstances."

Frederick Chintu, a Lusaka resident, told IRIN the sex trade was fast becoming the mainstay of employment for Zimbabwean migrants in Lusaka and Livingstone, the country's tourism capital, because "in most cases, they literally take over the entire lodge or guest house, and rent a room each".

Chintu told IRIN: "If they rent the entire guesthouse, they start parading themselves at the reception. Any client who walks in at any time can just choose which woman he will sleep with for a short time, since their charges in most cases are uniform.

"They are usually aged between 16 and 40 years, and so it's a question of one's taste, whether to go for the young one or pick on the elderly and more experienced, but they would all be there at the reception."

Both countries have high rates of HIV/AIDS: in Zimbabwe 20.1 percent of people aged between 15 and 49 are HIV positive, while in Zambia the infection rate for the same age-band is 17 percent.

Clementine Mumba, a spokesperson for the Treatment and Advocacy Literacy Campaign, an HIV/AIDS prevention advocacy group, told IRIN: "This issue of having Zimbabweans taking up prostitution here will have a very negative impact on our country.

"These people are desperate for cash and can do anything, regardless of whether they are infecting or getting reinfected. Some don't even know their HIV status, for that matter. It's a very negative picture for our country."


Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) Migration


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States. Republication is subject to terms and conditions as set out in the IRIN copyright page.