Zim, Zambian prostitutes in turf war

Sporadic night fights, which at times involve use of shoe tips and beer bottles as weapons, are the order of the day as the Zambian prostitutes harass their Zimbabwean counterparts for allegedly charging lower than normal rates. The clientele in Zambia’s number one tourist city are mainly white tourists who are willing to pay substantial amounts for the company of an African woman. The rate, according to the Zambian girls, ranges from US$20 upwards, but Zimbabwean girls charge as little as US$5. Police have, on occasion, been called upon to break up the scuffles. They recently arrested four sex workers who assaulted a trader-cum-sex worker from Zimbabwe. According to locals, the major reason in the discrepancies is due to the fact that while most of the Zambian prostitutes hang around Livingstone’s central business district (CBD) thereby having an idea of what a good charge would be, their Zimbabwean counterparts are simply out to raise money without doing any research. “Zambian girls give first priority to whites while those from across (Zimbabwe) don’t mind anyone. All they want is money and US$5 for ‘short time’ (one encounter) is not bad for them. We see a lot of fights here because of the differences in charges,” said Chrispin Mukwita, a local journalist. He said tourists, who usually do not want to wait on prostitutes for a long time, are in hurry to whisk them away, hence giving them leverage to demand even up to US$50 for “short time”. Though beneficial to the prostitutes, the tourists’ generosity has been working against local men and, as a result, there has also been “tension” between the locals who hang out with prostitutes and tourists. “An ordinary Zambian man grappling to survive cannot afford that kind of generosity. “Zambian girls are becoming unaffordable for the local guy because these same tourists give them too much money. The only hope for a poor fellow like me, are the sisters from Zimbabwe, but they are also being driven away by the Zambians girls,” said a nightclub reveller without wanting to be named. Sex workers spoken to in Livingstone, some of whom travel from places as far as 1 000 kilometres away, said they went to the tourist capital not to view the Victoria Falls but to make money. “I came here for money ‘ I am not a tourist. If I was, I would have gone to see the Victoria Falls and then gone back the same day I came here. If I was demanding the same amount as I was charging in Lusaka, then why come here at all?” said a Zambian prostitute, Catharine Nyirenda, who claimed she had no reason to withhold her identity. One from Zimbabwe said due to pressure from Zambians, she and her colleagues were reluctantly beginning to hike the charges in order to remain in busy nightspots. “If we go to those bars that are not busy, at times we get no customers the whole night. If you are lucky, you get one or two. Otherwise, it’s only worthwhile to be at such places if the guy takes you the whole night, but that is not easy. We just have to go back and agree with the Zambians,” she said while seeking to remain anonymous. Only a few “brave” Zimbabwean sex workers still go to popular nightspots in the heart of Livingstone. Since the upsurge in tourists visiting Livingstone a few years ago, there has been a heavy presence of prostitutes who now even go to extremes of knocking at doors of hotel clients. Locals say the prostitutes connive with hotel receptionists to show them the rooms of potential clients who they usually approach scantily dressed as a way of luring them. Even young girls below the age of 16 are also increasingly getting involved in prostitution throughout Southern Africa. According to a research done by an independent consultant, Viktoria Perschler-Desai, who previously worked as a project officer in the United Nations Children’s Fund’s Child Rights Protection Unit, child prostitution is a growing phenomenon in Southern Africa. “The reasons for this are multiple, but they include chronic family poverty owing to lack of employment for adults and young persons; a breakdown in family support mechanisms; migration; gender inequality; and the impact of HIV/AIDS,” she says. She says another contributory factor is the inadequacy of the education systems in Southern Africa, which provide quality schooling for only a limited number of children. Many girls that drop out of school and cannot find employment or get married resort to prostitution.

May 2006
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