By Patrick Chitumba
It reads like a movie script but this is a place where sex workers fear being raped and robbed. They fear contracting sexually transmitted infections and HIV but they are glued there for the love of money at the expense of their lives and health.
It is around 10pm and the location is a makeshift bar with poor ventilation and lighting as an old generator appears to be the source of lighting in this dingy and overcrowded bar.
There is hardly enough air to breathe amid indications that many of the patrons, mainly small-scale miners, suffer from tuberculosis.
Behind this notorious bar is a spot called “check point” where scantily dressed sex workers line up to be inspected for the purposes of being hired for a short time or the whole night by prospective clients.
The clients are small-scale miners, who are mostly youths. They have allegedly knocked off at Mazowe Mine, popularly known as Jumbo Mine in search for gold, risking their lives and the safety of nearby homes.
The small-scale miners allegedly bribe security guards to gain access into the mining shafts for gold ore which, after processing, gives them money which they use for alcohol, drugs, food, clothes and of course hiring sex workers.
At the check point – a prospective client has the “right” to examine his lady from head to toe, in slave trade manner, where the masters had the right to fondle the slaves’ breasts and private parts without their consent.
But here, the sex workers consent all because of the need for money.
Among them is 17-year-old *Jane Tazvidei from Mbare, Harare. She is among scores of sex workers who made the great trek to Metallon Corporation-owned Jumbo Mine about three months ago when small scale miners started getting more access into the once vibrant operation — attracting gold buyers, small to medium entrepreneurs who bring all sorts of things which include clothes, shoes, bags, blankets and groceries.
Mazowe Mine is one of the oldest mines in Zimbabwe. Exploration and development there dates back to 1890, with over 1,4 million ounces of gold produced to date. The mine comprises two underground operations, Mazowe and the BSV sections. The mine has a total of 247 claims over 2 939 hectares of land.
Metallon Corporation has been forced to put its mines under care and maintenance because of the unsustainable costs of running them without proper compensation for its proceeds.
Here lies a mine where gold is available and laxity in security has made the mine popular with artisanal miners from all over the country as well as sex workers who are also coming from all over as well leading to “forced sexual intercourse” resulting in a spread of STIs and HIV.
Jumbo Mine, according to National Aids Council (Nac) statistics is an STI, HIV/Aids hot spot as evidenced by a spike in STI cases — most of which are recurrent cases as the artisanal miners and sex workers do not go to the clinic for medical assistance since the nearest one is about 20km away.
Jane said after falling sick — they just try to “manage” the conditions using medication they buy from street pharmacists, a practice which poses further danger to their health.
But she says all they care about is getting the dollar and not the dangers that come with the money-driven sexual relationships — some which are under duress as the clients refuse to wear
According to Jane, new comers are the ones who go to the check point because they are still to get regular clients.
“Every evening from around 10PM, we are at the check point parading ourselves to willing clients. They inspect us like we are produce at the vegetable market and we are molested in the process and all is done to impress the client. This is where we get potential clients for a short time or the whole night.
“But since it will be too early, we prefer short time clients so that we make more money. A short time client pays $15 cash or $25 EcoCash while for the whole night we charge between US$10 and US$15. So, the target is that one gets about four short time clients before finally
settling for a whole night client so as to maximise on business. This is because it’s not every day that these artisanal miners have cash so we take advantage of peak periods,” she said.
However, Jane says it is not a walk in the park as the cabins they sleep in are another form of hell.
The cabins are at most three by two metres and the owners demand that they be used by five girls at a cost of $10 per head per night.
“If a client is impressed with your looks, body structure, your private parts, boobs or whatever after inspection, we then head to the cabin. There are several cabins doted around Doxford shops — a stone’s throw away from Jumbo Mine,” she said.
Inside one of the cabins resembles the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah. There are five makeshift beds made of blankets arranged in such a manner that they accommodate five sex workers and their clients.
In an attempt to have some privacy — pieces of African print material are hung from the roof but the couples can see each other and even have body contact as the space is just too small for the adult game.
Candles are banned to avoid fires in the cabins so they use cellphone torches.
“As you can see, this is one of the cabins and it accommodates five sex workers per night at $10 per person. There’s really no privacy and it’s like Sodom and Gomorrah. The cabin owners demand that we share a single cabin with no electricity or water,” she said.
She said the cabins resemble hell because once in there — the clients refuse to put on condoms.
Asked why they engage in unprotected sex Jane said: “These clients will be holding knives and machetes. They don’t take no for an answer. To make matters worse, we don’t have a police station or base close by. Some take advantage of the fact that there is no electricity and remove the condom before they slide in.”
She said the cabins are also not safe as machete wielding small-scale miners time and again raid and rob the sex workers together with their clients.
“Some of us end up going into the bush but it’s not safe as many have been raped there and life goes on for rapists as we have nowhere to report,” said Jane.
Another sex worker identified as Tamari — a mother of two also from Harare — urged the Ministry of Health and Child Care to quarantine every woman and man at this mine and force STI and HIV testing and treatment.
“All of us here one way or the other have been treated of an STI. That is a fact we don’t deny. This is a hot spot for STIs, and HIV/Aids. You find that after spending four days under ground, the small-scale miner comes and demands sex without protection and without even washing his manhood. But what can we do when we want money? Some with visible blisters on their private parts will force you to have unprotected sex. We are always exposed to STIs, HIV/Aids,” she said.
She continued: “One was raped and the rapist walked scot-free. The panners are a law unto themselves and this is a true reflection of this Doxford mining community in Mazowe. Some don’t want condoms, some cut the condom, pierce it deliberately, some don’t want light, they don’t want their manhood touched. Once you switch off the light, they remove the condom.”
A closer look at the faces of these sex workers shows pain and despair. Most of them bear scars from being assaulted with fists, knives and broken beer bottles.
According to Mr Kudakwashe Kamupiyawo, Nac peer educator for Doxford area, the sex workers are exposed to STIs and HIV.
“Reports of artisanal miners refusing to bath or wear condoms are common here. There is forced curfew when syndicates fight over gold. Mashonaland Central province has the highest HIV prevalence rate and STIs especially in artisanal mining. So we try to teach these high-risk populations how to protect themselves against STIs, HIV and Aids,” he said. The Chronicle