For close to a year, Barbara Majengwa thought her 17-year-old daughter was employed as a maid in Avondale, Harare.
Actually, she considered relocating her other children from the tourism town of Kariba to the capital to share in her daughter’s newly found greener pastures. They had been yearning for a breakthrough for a long time.
Reports that her daughter was earning a monthly salary of US$90 naturally made her a proud mother.
However, little did Majengwa know the supposed positive turn in fortune would soon be the source of her “biggest” heartbreak.
“She used to regularly send me money. I had no reason to suspect anything bad. But I at times got worried by the reluctance for me to visit her workplace,” narrated a distraught Majengwa.
It was not long before a close family friend let the cat out of the bag. “I think she blocked me on all her social media platforms. However, I gave my friend her number since they communicated with each other. My friend then bumped into explicit images and videos that she frequently posted on social media advertising her X-rated services, including contact details.
“I was devastated! I confronted her over the phone but she denied everything. I then decided to pay her an unannounced visit since I got her address from her social media posts. My misery doubled as I confirmed everything.”
In Harare, she found out that her daughter shared a house with seven other ladies working as sex workers.
The apartment they shared was a brothel camouflaged as a lodge. They charged clients at least US$10 for half an hour of their services. However, they only got 25 percent of the amount as the rest went to the brothel owner.
Many such misdemeanours are happening throughout the country but are going unreported. And authorities are concerned.
Zimbabwe Republic Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said some of the culprits had since been accounted for.
“Yes, we have been receiving reports but mostly from Waterfalls. We had to carry out our own investigations, which led to the arrest of some of the culprits,” he said.
“Communities should report any household or place they suspect to be a brothel so that we take the necessary action since it is illegal. As of police officers who are being accused of receiving bribes from brothel owners, action will be taken on anyone found on the wrong side. We are fighting corruption and no one is above the law.”
According to Harare City Council, some houses have been illegally transformed into guest houses or lodges.
“Reports of houses that have been converted into brothels are coming to our offices. Most of the cases include locations or areas close to the Central Business District (CBD).
“Indications are that most of the places start as lodges before they later morph into brothels,” said Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme.
According to council, a clampdown on brothel operations is currently being carried out in terms of Sections 32 to 35 of the Law of Property Act.
In Harare, brothels have become common in Eastlea, Avondale, Braeside, Hatfield, Msasa and Belvedere. However, property owners in some high-density areas have joined the bandwagon.
Charges are a bit low in supposed low-income neighbourhoods, and usually pegged between US$2 and US$5 per hour.
Gogo Mangwiro (63) recently turned her Highfield home in Machipisa into a paradise for ladies of easy virtue.
“I cannot call it a brothel, but, yes, my tenants are sex workers and they pay ‘rentals’ daily. I get a certain percentage on the money they charge their clients.
“The new system is working as I no longer have to go for days or weeks without money. I stay with my two grandchildren aged 10 and seven as their parents died. I occasionally need money to cater for their needs,” said the widow.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail Society revealed that some tenants are renting houses in medium- to low-density suburbs for US$500 per month and convert them into brothels without the owners’ knowledge.
The tenant will then look for sex workers to occupy the place. “I have at least six girls at any given moment — two per room. They each give me a minimum of US$10 per day. This means by end of month I would have doubled or even tripled the rental my landlord expects from me,” boasted one of the guys at a shopping mall in town.
Most brothels are said to be targeting vulnerable teenage girls, who are believed to be attracted to older and high-spending perverts.
Acting on a tip-off, we contacted one of the ladies, Christine Mafudza, who is alleged to be running a brothel that is disguised as a massage parlour.
“I used to run a massage parlour and I would even advertise in the press, but I was forced to shut down because of certain issues,” she said.
However, we produced evidence of nine under-aged girls that are currently housed at her premises. This included up-to-date social media advertisements of their illicit activities. Mafudza immediately hung up the phone. Repeated efforts to get in touch with her afterwards were in vain.
A young girl interviewed by this publication explained how she got involved in brothels.
“I started when I was still at university. I had a single boyfriend. But my parents and him (boyfriend) could not take care of my ‘special needs’, hairdos, etcetera. My fees were always paid on time though.
“I then decided to venture into prostitution together with the friends I rented an apartment with. The house became our base. It was a lucrative venture, such that two years after school I am still hooked,” confessed a young girl, who only identified herself as Latoyah.
Harare Residents Trust Director Mr Precious Shumba said although brothels are not a new phenomenon, the recent trend was disturbing.
“They (brothels) come in different categories that is for the poor and the elites. But the common denominator though is that they all serve the same purpose – prostitution.
“The numbers have gone out of hand. Clients are often well-placed members of society and the police are at times compromised to act. It is our hope that relevant authorities act decisively on this issue. Our society cannot carry on with such rot,” said Mr Shumba.
Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association chair Mr Ambrose Sibindi said their city was facing a similar predicament.
“Sokusile and Gwabalanda are leading in terms of reported cases. Our investigations have identified four houses in Sokusile that have been turned into brothels and we have engaged the police over the matter,” said Mr Sibindi.
“ . . . at one home in Nketa we discovered that both parents are in the diaspora so the children have converted the house into a brothel. We have the same situation in Luveve and they disguise their operations as a shebeens.”
Brothels are outlawed in Zimbabwe. Similarly, anyone who wishes to convert their private home to commercial use should follow due processes with local authorities.
For instance, for one to operate a lodge or massage parlour, they must apply for change of use of the property in question in terms of Section 26 (3) of the Regional, Town and Country Planning Act and obtain a conditional permit.
“Failure to do so is a contravention of Section 24 of the Act, which is a jailable offence. The Law of Property Act is empowered by the RTCP Act to institute enforcement against such contravention,” warns Mr Chideme.
Girl Guides Association of Zimbabwe commissioner Ms Florence Madhuku encouraged the public to report brothel operations.
“Our problem in most cases is that police officers are bribed and the case never sees the light of day.
“These are sensitive cases and most communities are suffering in silence. The Press together with groups like us who deal with the girl-child have to join hands and make noise.
“Because of poverty, these girls are being exploited by brothel owners. The sad thing is they end up contracting STIs and having unwanted pregnancies,” she said.
Chief Seke, born Stanley Chimanikire, believes the spread of brothels is a clear sign of growing moral decadence within communities.
“We need to act! Brothels destroy society and extended families because prostitution is money-driven, thus it knows no bounds,” he said. Sunday Mail