First Lady engages sex workers First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa stresses a point during her interaction with sex workers on Monday

Tendai Rupapa

Senior Reporter

WEARING a tight and revealing short dress, Wadzanai and her peers loiter close to a dimly-lit shop veranda at Mverechena Shopping Centre in Domboshava.

Despite the biting cold weather, the ladies appear comfortable in their bare attire while beckoning any passing male towards them.

The moment a car parks near them, they gather around the driver like fleas attracted by light.

One-by-one the ladies disappear from the veranda only to reappear after a while and continuing with their game until daybreak.

Welcome to the world of commercial sex workers where the cold and dignity countless. 

Only money counts.

But not everyone is amused by their work and are working tooth and nail to ensure they divert their energy on something dignified.

It is because of this that commercial sex workers from Mbare, Hatcliffe and Domboshava yesterday started the week with a rare visit from First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa who encouraged them to quit the world’s oldest profession and earn clean money through using their hands and brains.

During the visits, the mother of the nation was accompanied by religious, business and health experts who emphasised the need to maintain dignity through leading honest lives.

Though appearing to earn them quick buck, the First Lady said prostitution exposed the women to sexually-transmitted diseases, cervical cancer and violence.

She said it was critical for women to respect their bodies and shy away from risky behaviour. 

The First Lady’s aim is to rehabilitate and economically empower them through various projects.

Sex workers contribute their views during Pastor Idah Chikono’s presentation on the importance of valuing their bodies, while First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa looks on in Mbare on Monday

“I have come so that we map the way forward vana vangu. As a mother I want to walk with children who want to work, use their hands and brains. I want you to appreciate that you are important my children. To me saAmai, there is nothing difficult or shameful. We want to come up with something tangible and I have brought many speakers so that we teach each other on certain issues,” she said.

Sister Felistas Nyika, community sister-in-charge, who was part of the First Lady’s entourage made the commercial sex workers appreciate they were risking their health. 

“The work you have been doing is risky. Some were not practicing safe sex and were prone to sexually-transmitted diseases. You were also at risk of contracting HIV and cervical cancer. 

“Now if your health is compromised, will you be able to cope with the various projects Amai has for you. Let us leave this profession and I urge you all to utilise the Angel of Hope Foundation’s mobile clinic and get screened for cancer and other ailments,” the nurse said.

On Covid-19, she said they were at risk because they come into close contact with different clients.

Bishop Dr Patience Hove, spoke about fighting resistance and read from Luke 8:1-3.

She spoke about the woman who washed the feet of Jesus and became a new creation. 

“That woman became an entrepreneur, she was uplifted and never looked back after demons were cast from her. What has been started by the First Lady will transform your lives. Be resilient and fight things that pull us back. As women you have been remembered and lifted up by Amai and let us work,” she said.

Her words were echoed by Pastor Idah Chikono who spoke about the need to use one’s hands.

She read from Jeremiah 31:15-17 which shows that God blesses the works of someone’s hands.

“You could have entered the world’s oldest profession because of circumstances, but understand that God loves you and blesses the works of your hands. When my husband died in 1984, I started a sewing project to fend for my children. 

“I want to tell you that nothing can come out of selling your body. You are fearfully made and treasure yourselves as women and not sell your flesh.

Ms Odiline Kava presents to sex workers on financial management and discipline on the decent income generating projects they shall partake in while First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, Minister of State for Mashonaland East Aplonia Munzverengwi and Harare acting Mayor Stewart Mutizwa (right) looks on in Domboshava on Monday. — Pictures: John Manzongo

“From today be proud of your body, know God.

“Our mother has love for you and that is why she came to you following what is written in the bible. Do not go back to the streets because you have been lifted up by the First Lady from the dust,” she said as the commercial sex workers nodded in agreement.

Mrs Odiline Kava spoke about grooming, etiquette and business management

She taught the women personal hygiene, attire, speech, composure, customer care and financial literacy. 

“When choosing a project, do things you are passionate about not because a neighbour is doing the same,” she said.

So deep and far-reaching were the lectures that they even touched on dignity. 

Mrs Briggette Matenganzara, a high school teacher, said it was important for children to derive inspiration from their parents.

Mrs Matenganzara said she lost her husband when all her children were in primary school and she had to work hard to succeed.

Mrs Matenganzara asked the ladies where they think they will be after 10 years, triggering a lengthy discussion on the need for vision and focus.

“What do our children learn from us? If you see your 13-year-old daughter with men would you be able to warn her considering the profession that you are in? You have been found favour by our mother who wants you to live without danger. She is encouraging you to use your hands,” she said.

She said with Covid-19, commercial sex work become dangerous since there was no way they would wear masks into the bedrooms.

“You will be with someone whose Covid-19 status you do not even know and the virus will spread,” she said.

Speaking on waste management, Mrs Trish Mukudu, said some of the things that are thrown away can actually earn families money.

“Women, there are things that we throw away as useless, yet they can give us money. Some of the waste from the kitchen can be put in a pit for later use in the garden. I am growing vegetables at my house for sale and use the waste as capital. Let us not peddle our flesh. Let us not waste time,” said Mrs Mukudu.

One commercial sex worker said she had learnt not to sell her flesh.

“I have learnt and am actually emotional why I engaged in sex work when there are vast opportunities out there. Had it not been for Amai, I would not have known this. All these skimpy outfits, I need to burn them and start on a clean page. We are ready to work,” she said.

Her counterpart said she had seen the light and would change.

“I admit that I bed men in the presence of my child behind the curtain. After this discussion, I have learnt that I am teaching my children wrong things. I am now leaving my wicked ways,” she said.

In Hatcliffe, the First Lady implored the commercial sex workers to be free to explain the kind of help they needed so that they stop peddling their flesh.

“What made me come here is that I want us to assist each other in using our hands. This work has no future and we want you to treasure your health and work for your children. I want you to have a new beginning and I believe all will be well,” she said.

Matron Perpetua Kaseke, a health practitioner said health had to be looked at physically, mentally, spiritually and socially.

She said if a person misses any of these four attributes it means their life will not be on the correct path.

She further educated them about Covid-19 and urged them to get vaccinated.

Mrs Molly Ngwenya spoke about the power of a woman as a life giver with influence.

“A woman is a life giver hence we have to influence coming generations positively. We must not miss this opportunity. The heavens have heard you and sent a chariot of fire in the form of our Mother the First Lady. God gives everyone a chance in life. Nyasha dzadururwa mamuri,” she said.

One of the sex workers contributes during their interaction with First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa in Mbare on Monday

So touching were the lessons which included one on self-development which was presented by Apostle Alice Muridzo.

“I have come here to urge you to go back to school. I am a testimony, because I went back to school while in my marriage. There is no limit in education, age is nothing but a number. Amai is touching every corner not leaving anyone behind and why should you lag behind? Let’s use our hands and brains. Our mother is actually creating opportunities for us, let us embrace them.”

Mrs Dulce Mudekwa spoke about etiquette.

One of the commercial sex workers expressed gratitude for the empowerment opportunity presented by the first Lady.

“We have been preached to on the importance of worshipping because our job keeps us away from church yet our God is forgiving. Our peers succumbed to diseases because of this profession and I thank you for remembering us. We agree to leave this work and use our hands,” she said.

Yet another sex worker gave an insight into the challenges they face daily.

“One time I was hired by a man who after using me pushed me out of a moving vehicle and I fell into a bridge along Bulawayo Road where I got injured. One man took me to a house where there were a lot of other men and they gang-raped me without protection. It is by grace that I did not contract diseases,” she said while crying.

“Even under the circumstances I did not quit because I was seeking survival. However, with the teachings I got here, I am willing to change. I am leaving the streets since I am now a new creation. I cannot continue being used by men,” she said.

While sharing their experiences, another commercial sex worker said she was once kidnapped.

“I was once kidnapped by a potential client and along the way he picked other people who gagged me. They started talking on the phone with people who wanted human parts. I miraculously escaped and said I would never be involved in harlotry again. Now that you have come to assist us, our life will never be the same,” she said.

Among projects that they needed to venture in, the women mentioned cooking, 

Chicken rearing, rabbit rearing, mushroom farming, detergent making, sewing and baking.

The First Lady encouraged them to from groups according to what they wanted.

Those who intended to go back to school had their names written down.

From Hatcliffe, the First Lady and her entourage proceeded to Domboshava where experts took the commercial sex workers through the same teachings.

After the teachings, one of the sex workers said she was inspired by the First Lady who was doing a PHD and said she wanted to follow suit.

“I am encouraged that Amai at her age is still pursuing education, she is doing a PHD. I am inspired and nothing can stop me from going back to school. If I add my education and a project, my life will never be the same again. I am done with prostitution from today. At my age I feel ashamed to continue doing this. I have a son-in-law, but I remained a hooker. I have embraced the First Lady’s vision,” she said.

Mashonaland East Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister Aplonia Munzverengwi welcomed the first Lady’s vision and implored the commercial sex workers to count themselves lucky.

“It is a lucky thing to be remembered by the mother of the nation like this. Let us have commitment towards our projects so that we succeed,” said the minister.

Acting Harare Mayor Councillor Stewart Mutizwa said they had embraced the First Lady’s vision and would work with her in allocating the women places to operate from home industries that were lying idle.

“As Harare we encourage and support our mother’s vision to transform the lives of people, especially ladies of the night. For most of these women it is not by choice and we have taken it upon ourselves to help the First Lady in her programme to transform people’s lives so that we have a productive country with dedicated citizenry. 

“We have home industries that were lying idle so we will revamp them in line with the projects that have been chosen by the women so that we will provide factory space for those willing to sew, make peanut butter and those who want to rear chickens among other projects,” he said.

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