Mutasa is one of many old sex workers in Harare’s poor neighbourhood who compete with teenagers for men as they sell their bodies for as little as 50 cents to earn a living.
In this business, she is competing with her 28-year-old daughter, Maidei, and at times with girls as young as 13.
“Most of my clients are young boys who normally want to sample the Magogos [old women]. We give them the best such that they continue to come back with their money,” said Mutasa during a tour of the Booster area sponsored by the National Aids Council (NAC).
Her old face was heavily powdered, with dark eyebrows, but the artificial look could not hide her age.
Even the way she walks tells that she has seen many battles and has slept with many men for a living.
“I know how to handle a client better than these young girls. Even my bed is smart and I know how to wash myself, clean my private parts to the satisfaction of my clients, hence I have survived in this game,” Mutasa said.
Her body looks wasted but the make-up on her face tells a different story — a granny refusing to retire from the world’s oldest profession.
“If I retire, who will take care of me? My daughter is also in it trying to keep herself going. I have been in this trade for over 30 years,” she said.
“I started it after my husband, now late, cheated on me long back and we divorced.
“I had no option but to look for something that could sustain me.
“Indeed, this thing [private part] is gold, it’s a gold mine and I have sustained my family,” Mutasa told the journalists who were visiting sex workers with NAC officials.
However, Mutasa and other sex workers in Epworth are suffocating under the liquidity crunch that has dogged the economy since 2015.
At times they go without a cent or are forced to drop their charges to as low as $0.30 so that they can at least buy something to eat.
“Things are hard these days. We are struggling although we are accepting payments through EcoCash. It’s cold out there,” she lamented.
“At times we go for days without getting anything. We have men who are willing to pay as little as 30c for short time, just imagine.”
At the time of the visit, Mutasa was nursing an injury. She claimed a client who wanted a price reduction burnt her thighs.
“Look at my thighs, they were burnt by some men who wanted me to reduce the price to 30 cents and I refused,” she said.
“While I was negotiating, one of them took a burning log and shoved it between my legs. I am thankful to God, the log did not reach my private parts. It is very bad.”
Mutasa said these days, due to the injury, it was her daughter who was active on the market to sustain the family. They share a single room, which is divided by a curtain to give a semblance of privacy to their various clients.
“She will be with her client on the other side and I will also be entertaining mine on the other side,” she said.
“We are just trying to make ends meet, otherwise morally it’s bad, but we have no option,” she said, much to the amusement of the journalists before her colleagues broke into song and dance singing mwana wehure akangofanana namai wacho kana pachikapa [a prostitute’s child is just like the mother when it comes to sexual performance].
But does she love the job? “Not because it’s nice, but because I have to take care of the family.”
Mutasa believes older sex workers are in a better position to negotiate for safe sex and prevent the spread of HIV and Aids.
“We have realised that most of these teenage sex workers are unable to negotiate for safe sex and in the end they expose themselves to HIV and Aids,” she said.
With the help of Springs of Life Zimbabwe and NAC, the sex workers at Booster have a policy which they have amplified into a slogan, “no condom, no sex, or more condoms, more sex” as they push for safe sex.
“We get regular HIV and Aids services from Springs of Life and NAC and we appreciate that,” Mutasa said.
But we are worried that these young sex workers, the teenagers, are failing to negotiate for safe sex. They are doing it for as little as 10c at times.
“We have realised that most men are going for them, thereby exposing these girls to diseases,” Mutasa said.
“They know that we are able to control and negotiate for protected sex, hence they avoid us.
“The funny part is that young boys come to us because they want our experience and tidiness and old men want the little girls.”
In a country where unemployment levels are hovering at around 90%, there has been an increase in sex workers.
Springs of Life co-ordinator, Precious Msindo said her organisation was worried about the rise in child prostitution in Epworth.
“It’s a pity that we have an increasing number of child sex workers, school dropouts, with some being as young as 12 years,” she said.
“The most unfortunate part is their failure to negotiate for safe sex and fight abuse from the older ones.
“As an organisation, we assist them through spiritual mentorship, but more needs to be done.”
As prostitution seems to be thriving, debate is high on whether Zimbabwe should legalise it and set operating rules so that sex workers are protected from abuse.
Proponents of the legalisation of sex work argue that this will sanitise the industry and protect women from abuse they go through as commercial sex work would be institutionalised.
NAC information officer, Tadiwa Pfupa said engagements with sex workers in Epworth and other hot spots would help reduce the HIV prevalence rate.
“The worry from NAC’s perspective is the issue of teenage sex workers who are unable to negotiate for safe sex. That is a big worry,” she said.
Epworth has been named among the top 10 hot spots for HIV infection in the country, with the Booster area being the prime spot due to the high population of sex workers in the vicinity.
Statistics from NAC show that in the second quarter of 2017, Epworth and Ruwa, with a population of 37 993, recorded 1 474 sexually transmitted disease cases and has a 15% prevalence rate higher than the national average of 14%.
*Not her real name