Harare se-x workers beat the cash crunch – online payments for services

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No bank card‚ no fun‚” says Harare se-x worker Primrose *‚ taunting a male client who says he has no cash at the end of the month.

Zimbabwe´s se-x workers have found a solution to the country´s cash woes – online payments for services.

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“Hard to say it‚ but cash shortages are a big boost to se-x trade here in Harare‚” says Primrose‚ 24.

Some workers in the formal sector sleep outside ATMs in the hope of being able to withdraw cash in the morning. But se-x workers have found their income tripling from the use of digital payments.

Primrose says money transfers through the Ecocash system allow her to charge clients US $8 for 30 minutes compared to $5 in cash.

Ecocash‚ owned by one of Zimbabwe’s richest men‚ Strive Masiyiwa‚ who also owns Econet Wireless mobile phone network‚ is the country’s biggest digital phone-to-phone money transfer platform. The platform handled $6.6 billion in transfers in its latest financial year.

Cash shortages‚ and the condition of the dollar notes in circulation‚ have sparked a surge in e-payments in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe´s US dollar notes are grubby and usually torn at the corners after changing hands too many times.

“Most US dollars in Zimbabwe are filthy‚ worn out‚ crumpled. A $2 dollar note can rot and wear out in your hands if you expose it to sunlight or soft rain. We don’t like such dirty notes. E-payments send healthy money direct to our bank accounts‚” Primrose says.

To get a clean minted $100 note from dealers‚ one must pay an unlawful $15 commission. Se-x workers refuse to accept Zimbabwe’s own “bond notes“.

Nyarai* 19‚ who says she came to do sex work in Harare immediately after finishing secondary school in Zimbabwe´s central city of Masvingo‚ flags down a motorist in an Audi A4 in Harare´s Avenue district. She is confident police patrolling on Chinese bicycles won’t touch her. In a March 2015 landmark ruling‚ Zimbabwe´s constitutional court banned police from detaining sex workers.

“Generous businessmen like these Audi drivers prefer to settle with a bank card. They even wire tips of up to $3 on top of the agreed fee. Digital money is the way to go.”

“Once a client enters a brothel room‚ I ask him to enter the Ecocash e-cash transfer pin code on his cellphone. We won’t pull off our clothes until the transfer message registers on our cellphone.”

se-x-worker

 

As soon as the cash transfer message beeps on my phone screen‚ the act proceeds.”

A cheap smartphone is now a must-have for Harare se-x workers‚ says Primrose.

“Cellphone and condoms – two non-negotiable instruments before any girl works Harare´s night streets. Cellphone

for e-cash transfer‚ condoms for protection…”

Primrose says her income has tripled since she switched to e-payments.

“I make $660 in a good month. This is way above teachers and nurses’ wages. My child is in primary school‚ properly cared for. The cash shortages are a good time for us in the se-x business.”

Jairos‚ 29*‚ a mechanic‚ gulps his Zambezi lager beer in Harare´s soaring heat. He says he uses his Texta-cash card to pay for sex. “Salaries in hard cash can take three months to be paid‚” he says.

Texta-cash is another mobile banking platform in Zimbabwe‚ supported by Cabs‚ one of the country´s most well-known building societys.

E-payments have also opened up the way to “advance bookings‚” says Primrose. Men make e-cash transfers to sex workers in advance‚ say‚ two days before the start of the weekend‚ she says. Se-x workers advertise their services on digital platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook.

“Sometimes we get bored men transferring up to $10 just to visit us for a talk and massage therapy‚” says Nyarai. “Factory closures have multiplied the number of men with difficulties here in Zimbabwe.”

She says e-payments help to protect workers. “The problem with cash is that rogue men would underpay us‚ or refuse to pay‚ and coerce us into se-x acts for no fee.”

This doesn’t happen with digital payments. “No one can cheat technology.”

Psychologist Esther Sadze agrees that digital payments are some protection against rape and non-payment. “At least e-payments take out the horror of beatings‚ rape and non-payment by violent clients.”

But‚ says Primrose‚ digital payments have led to an influx of young girls who charge as little as $2 for 60 minutes‚ “just to pile up mobile cash transfers”.

“Some are as young as 13.”

 

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