Bhobho Farm: a haven for sex workers

Thirty kilometres from the capital lies the sprawling informal settlement known as Bhobho Farm that has become a haven for commercial sex workers.

Sex workers are no longer scared of the police.
Sex workers are no longer scared of the police.

The Farm was established in the wake of Operation Murambatsvina and it borders the high density suburbs of Damafalls, Mabvuku, Zimre Park and Tafara. During the day it is not unlike any other community with women selling their wares in the market and children playing in the streets. However, when night falls the local drinking spots are full of sex workers and their clients.

Most of the prostitutes settled at Bhobho Farm because they could not afford to rent a house in any of the serviced urban areas.

“I can not afford to pay $10- $15 for accommodation each month. That is why I live here. Also, the police do not usually patrol this remote area,” said a local sex worker, Alice.

Sex in car parks

The clients here are not wealthy businessmen who can afford to pay for a room in a hotel, they are more likely to use car parks or other deserted ground.

“We have strictly forbidden our children to go out after dark because they are likely to stumble across prostitutes at the roadsides or in car parks,” said Amon Mbuva, a Bhobho Farm resident.

The sex workers, who work out of the Gazebo Shopping Centre, said the introduction of the multi-currency regime had improved things for them financially, but their poor housing situation left them with little option but to find alternative places to meet clients.

“I cannot bring a ‘client’ to my shack where my children are sleeping and the man cannot take me to his home because of his wife. We just choose a place which provides a bit of privacy and carry out our business,” said Alice.

Used condoms at the roadside bear testimony to this admission.

“Children are inquisitive by nature and we are afraid that they will contract diseases because the prostitutes do not dispose off their condoms properly,” said a concerned parent.

Poverty a driver

In his study of the area entitled, “Dollarised Economy and Commercial Sex Work: A case study of Commercial Sex work in Bhobho Farm, Harare,” anthropologist, Abel Kapodogo, noted that poverty was the main drive for prostitution at Bhobho Farm.

“The government literally dumped people there after the dreadful clean-up exercise without any means of survival. Most women do not have any income generating projects and they are forced into prostitution.

“In my study of the area I noticed that the sex workers were sending their children to school through selling sex,” said Kapodogo.

Sex workers interviewed said using protection during their encounters was not their choice but their client’s.

Education needed

“Unprotected sex is a little bit expensive. We charge almost up to $5 whilst protected sex costs only $2 dollars. We want money,” said Alice. Harare-based medical practitioner, Mlungisi Ndebele, said the situation was dire and sex workers need to be educated about proper use and disposal of condoms.

“The reason for an increase in STDs is lack of understanding of the danger of casual sex, ignorance of preventive measures and underestimation of timely referrals. Sex workers need to be taught on how to properly use safe sex methods,”said Ndebele

A sociologist who lectures at a Harare college, Aaron Mponda, said the influx of prostitution in informal settlements was a result of deep-rooted social problems.

“In Zimbabwe, it is illegal to solicit for sex. Deterrent measures should be put in place to root out the world’s oldest profession. If we want to succeed, the government should find other ways of looking after its citizens. Even if the government patrols this entire place, they will simply turn to other forms of accommodation,” said Mponda.

The police have been accused of aiding and abetting the prostitutes. “We no longer fear the police. In fact, we have built a strong relationship with some of them. Some ask for money and others want our services for payment, there are no properly trained police but neighbourhood police who patrol and guard the area,” said Alice.

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