By John Chimunhu|
Now Daily Investigation|
As soon as the taxi parks outside Tippers night club in central Harare, the three girls just get out and bolt, without paying.
They pound the pavement with their high heels, push aside the bouncers at the gate and flee into the darkened club throbbing with hip hop music.
Outpaced and fearing for his car if he pursues the fare thieves, the taxi driver just shakes his head in disbelief, slams his door and goes, spitting expletives.
As soon as the taxi man goes, the three girls come out and scour the tables, looking for a ‘catch’. Dressed in skimpy dresses, tight jeans and heels, they could be any of the high-class hookers who ply their dark trade on the dangerous streets of the Zimbabwean capital. But a closer look at Irene and her friends makes one thing apparent: they lack the toughness and street-savvy attitude of hardened prostitutes.
VARSITY PIMP ROLL
“We are students at the University of Zimbabwe,” Irene confesses, beginning to trust my photographer and I after a couple of drinks. “Many of the girls here are also students. We need money. It’s desperate.”
Prostitution has always been rife at Zimbabwean universities. However, this has been worsened by the University of Zimbabwe’s decision not to admit students in 2015 unless they pay their fees in full at the start of the semester.
Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu) president Gilbert Mutubuki estimated that 2 500 students had been sent back home for failing to pay fees on arrival at the UZ alone. Mutubuki confirmed that many of the students had no choice but to turn to prostitution to make ends meet. The bankrupt regime of dictator Robert Mugabe no longer provides student grants as in the past when the country was the darling of Western donors, receiving millions for educational loans. The bankrupt Harare administration now treats student fees as some sort of fundraising. The students have to pay cash for tuition, books, food and accomodation. Many have been driven into the criminal underworld, including prostitution, drug dealing, shop lifting and illegal vending. One student who had been admitted immediately turned her dorm room into a brothel and drug den, with “$2 per hour” scrawled on the door. Sometimes a queue formed outside her door, which included fellow students, college workers and even lecturers, we were told.
For most of these young women, prostitution is a dangerous occupation. Often, they suffer humiliation, violence and rape, or are robbed of their takings. Many of the women we interviewed for this report said they were too embarrassed to report the attacks or feared arrest if they did. Student prostitutes also face vicious attacks and arrest for loitering, by cops who regularly demand sex from them.
Irene said she lived in Mount Pleasant with an elderly caretaker who was her pimp and forced her into sex if she failed to raise the money that he wanted.
“You wont believe this, but many girls are getting into marriages of convenience with these caretakers, gardeners and guards just in order to get accommodation and food to get through college,” said Irene. “And what’s the government’s response? They just send people from the National AIDS Council to teach us how to use condoms, to avoid married men and unplanned marriages. But what we need is money from the government, not moral lessons.”
Another student, Vimbai, said even prostitution could no longer sustain them.
“Men don’t pay that much any more. Someone will give you $20 to sleep with you the whole night, and what can you do with such a small amount? Others will just buy you beer and drugs, take you to parties, but they become abusive when you demand cash. You have to be grateful for food and a place to sleep. Some of the men are married and you risk being beaten up by their wives,” Vimbai said.
Zinasu’s Mutubuki said the union was planning protests to force the authorities to address the students’ plight.
“Zinasu is disgruntled by the current situation at UZ where students without full fees are being chucked out. Students are required to pay the full fees for them to be able to register. This has led more than 2 500 students to go back home, after failing to pay their tuition fees. Most of the students are sons and daughters of poor peasants and civil servants who are facing economic challenges due to the failure of the current regime led by Robert Mugabe,” said Mutubuki, adding that education was a constitutional right, which had to be funded by the government.
“If the government is not able to fund education, we are encouraging them to respect and honour the people of Zimbabwe by resigning.”
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