Gweru Sex Workers Pose as MSU Students To Get Sex Clients As Competition Gets Tough

IN a few weeks’ time, the Midlands State University (MSU) will resume classes, and sex workers in Gweru are already fretting over the period as they fear finding themselves in the old profession’s relegation zone. Amongst sex clients, sleeping with a University student is a huge flex and status symbol.

By Michael Gwarisa recently in the Midlands Province 

This is also the trend in Zvishavane where the MSU has also established a campus. A few years ago, an MSU official told a parliamentary portfolio committee that Sex Workers from Zvishavane were having fake students Identity Documents printed and masquerading as the institution’s students.

According to Sex Workers who spoke to this publication, it’s a dog eat dog situation, and somehow, they can’t sit back and watch the female students snatch food right out their mouths. They have to devise strategies to remain relevant in an industry where competition is growing by the day.

I just go to places and clubs where university students converge and pretend to be a university student,” said Trish Bobho*, a 25 year old sex worker from Senga in Gweru.  “I just tell them I am doing Masters or a degree in Music and Musicology.”

Some of the popular joints where the sex work business is booming in Gweru include Downtown club, Bowling, New Dawn, Pabloz and many others.

“These are the clubs we go to and in these clubs, chances of hooking up with clients,” added Trish.

On a good day, Trish says she can service plus or minus 20 clients. However, of late things have been tough for sex workers as their biggest clients, the artisanal small scale miners are finding it difficult to work due to the continuous rains that are flood mining shafts.

For an elderly sex worker like Emmaculate Mlhanga,* a mother of eight, who is also a grandmother and mother-in- law, attracting younger clients may be a challenge due to the completion from young sex workers and university students. To get clients, she has to dress like a young University student and in some cases charge less in order to survive.

“I started sex work in 2013 after my husband whom I loved so much deserted me, leaving me to look after our eight children on my own. Now I am into sex work and the competition is rife. We have to compete with university students for clients. To compete with students, I dress like a young girl and ensure I stay relevant in the game,” said Emmaculate.

Apart from being a gold rich province, Midlands province is also home to the biggest institution of higher learning in the province. However, the province also has a thriving sex work industry largely driven by the mining activities and the sector booms whenever the MSU opens.

National AIDS Council (NAC) District AIDS Coordinator, Mr Petros Mazengwa said the city has around 4500 sex workers and when MSU opens, sex work booms in the city.

“Gweru is a busy city, we tend to see a lot of people coming to Gweru. You can talk of small scale miners and we can also talk of sex workers.  We also have that population in Gweru and in a survey that was done, we have plus or minus 4500 Sex Workers.

“You find that’s sex workers are not dull people, they also have strategies. When the MSU opens, they also flock to Gweru during that period because they also want to pretend to be students. Somehow, older men see it as a status symbol to be known to be sleeping with a University Student. Clients rarely ask for students Identity Documents,” said Mr Mazengwa.

Giving an HIV and overview of the Midlands province, National AIDS Council (NAC) provincial manager for Midlands Province, Mr Mambewu Shumba said HIV was a still a major issue in the area due a to myriad of factors.

“As a province, we have some problems which are major in terms of HIV and AIDS. The biggest problem in the province is limited access to HIV prevention knowledge and health related services by sub populations. These include small scale miners, sex workers, traders and others,” said Mr Shumba.

Midlands province has eight administrative districts and by NAC definition, the province has 10 districts. The Midlands province has an HIV prevalence of 11.73 percent and has an Infection rate or incidence of 0.25 percent.

“This indicates that we have a lot of infections coming in and we still have unprotected sex taking place, hence we have the incidence. Currently, the leading district in terms of both prevalence and incidence, is Shurugwi. The district has a prevalence of 16.62 percent and an incident of 0.4 percent which is quite high in terms of transmission. That is also followed by Mberengwa, Gweru and Zvishavane. That is the setup in terms of the incidence. As we speak, Shurugwi is the epicentre in terms of prevalence by virtue that there is a lot of mining activities going on.”

Shurugwi has both formal mining and almost 100 percent of informal mining and according to Mr Shumba, transmission of HIV also mining is the biggest driver of HIV infections in the province as women scramble for the precious greenback. He added that some female vendors come from across all parts of Zimbabwe to sell wares but due to the US Dollar temptation, they end up selling their bodies as well.

Meanwhile, Sex Workers in Gweru appluaded the work that is being done by Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Research Zimbabwe (CeSHHAR) and the National AIDS Council (NAC) of offering comprehensive sexual reproductive health services for sex workers.  The CeSHHAR offers HIV Testing and Counseling Services (HTS), Pre-Exposure Prophylaxes (PrEP) initiation, STI treatment and management, Gender Based Violence (GBV) services, counselling, HIV and AIDS treatment and care, Family Planning Services.



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