Sub-Saharan Africa is a point of concern for many world leaders. Genocide, civil war, disease, and rampant poverty have overwhelmed many of these countries. Even by the measure of these problem-stricken states, Zimbabwestands out as a grave case.
A “paint–by–numbers” portrait of Zimbabwe is grim. According to the CIA World Factbook, Zimbabwe ranks 159 out of 220 countries in terms of their gross domestic product. At a paltry $500 per person per year, it ranks nearly last in GDP per capita. Conversely, Zimbabwe ranks first among world nations for public debt, with a 234 percent deficit of their GDP, and an unemployment rate of 95 percent. Consequently, in a population of nearly 12 million people, almost nobody can find work. This is not a picture of a country falling down, but a picture of a country lying dead in the street.
At the street level, it’s impossible to miss the one alternative that always presents itself when a collapsed economy limits job opportunities: prostitution. Women of all ages (including scores only 12 or 13 years old) from all social strata, including professionals and college students, find themselves succumbing to the sex trade. For many teen girls growing up in poverty–stricken townships around the nation’s capital, coming of age includes a “haj” to Harare, the major metropolitan center. While they tell themselves and one another that they will find jobs in the service industry as maids or waitresses, too many end up dancing in dilapidated night clubs, competing for an anemic male patronage which comes to buy ten-dollar sex.
The fate of women swept into the sex trade in Harare serves to underscore a reoccurring theme: when men fall, women fall prey. In one instance, a homeless teenage girl resorted to prostitution after her father’s livelihood disappeared in the chaotic land-redistribution of 2000 and he died of malaria. Another found no recourse but to sell her body after she was left homeless, along with 700,000 others, from the 2005 urban rationalization program, ironically named Operation Restore Order. A mother of two can find no other way to pay bills when her husband leaves for Herbert Chitepo Avenue, a prostitution hub for upscale buyers,includinggovernment officials and celebrities. A married mother of four might resort to selling her body to put food on the table—sometimes without her husband’s knowledge, and sometimes with.
Hardly any woman in Harare is immune from the steep slide of poverty into a lifestyle of prostitution. Recent crackdowns on curfews—women are not permitted on the streets of Harare after 8:00pm—aimed at reducing the number of females out at night and hence eliminating prostitution, have terrorized even non-prostituted women. However, a growing trend finds its way around even the curfews: many road–side lodges harbor an underground prostitution industry. The opportunity is obvious: widespread poverty means many roadside lodges sit vacant, and prostituted women are always in need of temporary lodging to conduct “business.” Prostitution becomes a win-win enterprise—not only for the lodge owners, but for a network of ailing industries.Thus, they enjoy shelter from violent crackdowns, a makeshift security system of police and security guards, and profit from a steady stream of sex–buyers whose taxis clog the parking lots. In difficult financial times, everyone looks for a kick–back: from landlords, corrupt cops, and security guards, to drivers. What emerges is a complicated symbiosis of industries, all profiting from the sale of a woman’s body, and all demanding a cut of her meager wages—adding insult to injury, and heaping humiliation upon exploitation.
When economies collapse, the unavoidable byproduct is that the girls and women of a nation resort to the world’s “oldest profession.” This trend is only possible when men, who are meant to be pillars of communities and whose strength is never needed more than in such dire times, decide instead to demand en masse that their desire for sex be fulfilled. When men fall, women fall prey. But to what? Poverty? Temptation? Victimization? No—to men.
- Pray for a revival in Herbert Chitepo Avenue that would dry up the demand for paid sex.
- Pray for light and truth to wash over Harare, and that government leaders would arrive at wise solutions to the complicated sources and chains of poverty.
- Pray for the leaders of Zimababwe, that they would be empowered to restore rule of law and sound financial practices, and that “righteousness would exalt” the entire nation.
- Pray for a revival in the church in Harare. As in most places, prostituted women report that their clientele includes Christian ministers and musicians.
- Pray that the church in Harare would take its rightful place as a prophetic community of holiness and justice that boldly proclaims Jesus.