Married Prostitutes Complicate the Fight Against AIDS in Zimbabwe

By Harry Fisher|
Now Daily|

The caller at the end of the line said he wanted to speak to ‘his wife’, which came as a surprise to Murombo.
The woman in question was Murombo’s wife of twelve years, with whom he had three children.
“I tried to explain to the man that Annabelle was my wife, the mother of my children, and he was making a mistake. The man became abusive. He told me that he had lived with her on her buying and selling trips to South Africa and had given her a lot of money. He even knew that she had a birth mark in her genital area. He told me that as far as he was concerned I was the ex-husband and he was the new man on the scene,” Murombo said.
When Murombo confronted his wife about the affair, she confirmed that the lover was a truck driver who used to take her on shopping trips to Johannesburg, where she lived in his house for months on end.
“Just to humiliate me, the man told me the colour of a new bed my wife had imported and said he had slept with her there,” Murombo said.


According to a survey by an AIDS awareness group, many Zimbabwean housewives have turned to prostitution to survive epic unemployment of 86 percent. Many of the husbands are aware of their wives’ activities, through the grapevine, but are powerless to do anything about it. The prostitution networks are often complex, with support pillars of influential relatives and friends for the culprits. It is a traumatic, real-time replay of what the highly perceptive Zimbabwean writer and social commentator Charles Mungoshi describes in Walking Still. The woman basically becomes a gangster, or is controlled by gangs. She becomes powerful by virtue of being the new breadwinner and is sometimes generous. After all, prostitution is big business worldwide. Migrant prostitutes from poorer countries like Zimbabwe are always attractive in richer economies like South Africa and the United Kingdom because they can negotiate downwards on price and are easily manipulated by people with criminal minds.


For many of the married prostitutes we interviewed for this story, their lives are tainted with suicidal shame and guilt, but also cunning efforts to survive and cover up their misadventures. Many travel long distances to sell their bodies in strange and often dangerous locales where risks of rape and robbery are high. Some of the women who ply the transport corridor stretching from SA to Central Africa said they risked their lives by hooking up and travelling with strange partners on cross-border trips, where they risked being killed. All of this is having a terminal emotional and psychological toll on the victims. This usually manifests in the form of violence and quarelling, leading to unstable family relationships and an inability to relate to the spouse, relatives and children.
For Tambudzani of Beitbridge, it is a daily battle to dodge her husband, the police and all who know her as she seeks ‘clients’ among truck drivers at the border.
“I dont like what I am doing but I have to survive. I am unemployed and my husband is not working. Every day, I boil some eggs for sale to the truck men. Some drivers make passes at me or use vulgar language. At first I ignored them but other women advised me to go along with what the men wanted and get the money. That’s what I have been doing ever since,” Tambudzani said.


However, the practice is not confined to desperately poor women with no options.
Divorce lawyer Ben Hamid said cases he had handled involved married women living well and working in the United Kingdom.
“We have had cases of professional Zimbabwean women who are working in the UK but are under pressure to send money home to their relatives. Sometimes they go to bars for a pick-up. Rarely do they advertise, but some do it, especially by posting photos of themselves on Facebook and other social networks. More often, they will organise house parties and invite friends and work colleagues, making it clear to them that they take money for sex. The more common one, though, is the scenario where the married woman goes out with someone regularly and continually asks for money or favours with the implication that this will be in exchange for sex. This is subtle prostitution but very common and very lucrative because there is no limit to how much money the woman can suck out of the man before she leaves him,” Hamid said.


Experts say prostitution by married women is complicating the fight against AIDS. “Married prostitutes live a double life and are reluctant to get tested for HIV or to use condoms during sex with their husbands. Many are active in churches, where they hold important positions and feel that getting tested for AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections is confirmation of infidelity. Such couples are in grave danger of dying prematurely and risk infecting others,” said a counsellor. “Along with school children, housewives who engage in prostitution are at high risk.”
(c) Now Daily


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