A night with Harare’s working sisters

It is Friday, 9 pm and Abigail is standing on the side of the road wearing a skin tight skirt, cunningly designed to expose the maximum amount of thigh. A Toyota land cruiser screeches to a halt beside her and a man snaps off the ignition. As the car shivers into silence, th

e haggling begins. Twenty minutes later Abigail is back with z$2 million in her pocket. The ladies call it road patrol, they hoodwink the police by pretending to be hitchhiking and motorists stop to pick them up. After dealing with her customer, Abigail looks at her watch – it’s time to go to a nightclub. We enter the dimly lit bar and sit in the corner where we are later joined by her friends. John, Abigail’s second customer of the night arrives. He is scanning the crowd looking for her. He comes to our table and Abigail quickly gives an introduction. She has already warned me: “He does not want me to talk to men.” John, clearly one of Zimbabwe’s nouveaux rich, pulls out a wad of Zimbabwe dollars and orders beers. “What car do you have today?” asks Abigail as John takes her out to conclude their business. Moments later Abigail is back with $5 million in her purse. “John says he is going to a funeral outside Harare, you never know maybe he has gone to another girlfriend,” she complains.
Abigail and her friends share flats in the capital and take turns to bring their clients home. Their job has its risks. “Some clients refuse to use condoms and I charge extra money,” says Abigail. “That is danger allowance,” Anna chips in. But Florence disagrees: “Anyone who refuses a condom I will just say bye because dying of AIDS is painful.”
Some clients try to cheat them. “What they do is give you the money here in the bar and take you to their homes. After sleeping with you they demand their money back. If I am going to a client’s home I will leave the money he has given me to a friend,” says Anna the veteran leader of the group.
Debra admits: “I will never go to a client’s home again. One day I went with a certain man to one of Harare’s posh suburbs and he paid me good money. Then around 3 a.m. he told me to go. I said: ‘how can I go at this hour?’ and the man said his wife could come home at any time.” Abigail recalls an incident with a jealous wife. “One Saturday my other boyfriend decided to take me for a braai. The car had a puncture so the boyfriend removed the wheel to have it mended. His wife, I don’t know where she came from parked her car beside his and asked me what I was doing in her husband’s car. She grabbed my collar and I removed my stiletto heels and bashed her head. When the husband came she was bleeding,” she adds: “He calmed her down but I was with him again the next day.”
Debra takes a mirror from her handbag and begins to reapply her make-up. She tells me that it is in the late hours that the “big fish” with money come in. Anna boasts that she is in love with a top government official. “That guy pays, every time he comes from his overseas trips I am given foreign currency. Last month he gave me US$100, but he is very jealous. He does not want me to enter bars and says I should stay at home. I am not used to that,” she says. Debra is not in this business out of choice. She used to work in a supermarket but could not earn enough to support herself. Economic hardship forced her into a life of prostitution, now on a good week, especially at the end of the month she can earn an average of $40 million. “I was decently married,” she says. “My husband was retrenched and he went to South Africa to look for a job and it’s now five years. He does not write letters or send money. I am looking after my three children. It’s difficult to stay with children when you are doing this business. So my children are in my rural home with my mother. Every month I go back to give the children groceries. I never wanted to be in this business.” – All names have been changed to protect identities.

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