IN his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, published in 1994, Nelson Mandela proclaimed: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Residents of Harare’s Avenues area would be the best to understand the triteness of this statement; they have been robbed of their rights by pr_ostitutes whom they allege to be disrespectful of their freedom.
The Avenues area, for too long known for pr_ostitutes lurking in its streets at night, is witnessing a surge in the number of se_x workers living and operating in that neighbourhood.
Last year, there were celebrations in many quarters when the country’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of nine women who were contesting their arrest on charges of soliciting for paid se_x.
This ruling was well received by the commercial se_x workers, but many in the Avenues think it has brought them misery. They feel the se_x workers are abusing their new found freedom at the expense of other residents.
“I have a five year old daughter and she is exposed to vulgar language. They shout on the top of their voices and there is no way I can shield her from hearing what they will be saying. We also have rights. We need to live in peace, but we can’t sleep at night from the noise they make. They fight among themselves and with their clients,” said Alisa Gara, a resident in the area.
“It seems they think they can do whatever they want and this is not what I want my child to see as she grows up,”
Another resident, an old man, who has two daughters and refused to be named, said: “I live too close to them. They are violent and have no boundaries. They can do anything to you. It’s a real menace. They use all kinds of drugs and once they are high, its hell for some of us and our families. The court ruling wasn’t wrong, but it has caused us problems because in the past they were afraid of police patrols.”
Jabulani Gondongwe, who has lived in the area for more than 10 years, said: “Police patrols used to be a daily practice, but these days you hardly see police officers in the area. Life was much better when the police were more visible. The pr_ostitutes were afraid of being arrested and paying fines so they were not so brazen but now they are very daring. They even mock police officers when they see them.”
Police spokesperson, Charity Charamba, said police still patrolled the area.
Police patrols are still being conducted in the Avenues area. However, police officers are now patrolling on foot as opposed to the cycle patrols which were more visible and effective as they would cover a wider area. The ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police) is appealing to residents with information on areas of concern where criminal activities are taking place to report to Officer Commanding Harare Central District,” she said.
She said such reports would “be treated with priority”.
Pr_ostitutes who spoke to the Financial Gazette blamed the deteriorating economic conditions and high unemployment in the country for their increasing numbers. They said they need to feed themselves and their children.
Nine women took their matter to the Constitutional Court last year seeking a determination on the violation of their fundamental rights to liberty as provided for in Section 49 of the Constitution and their right to equal protection and benefit of the law as guaranteed in Section 56.
They argued that their rights had been violated as a result of their arbitrary arrest, detention and prosecution.
Deputy Chief Justice Luke Malaba, sitting with eight other judges of the Constitutional Court, agreed and declared the arrest and prosecution of pr_ostitutes unconstitutional. The United Kingdom-based Open Society Foundation reported in 2012 that the police were the greatest abusers of se_x workers in Zimbabwe.
Police launched numerous crackdowns over the years under different code names which some found to be openly se_xist, such as Chipo Chiroorwa (Chipo get married) and Operation Chengetedza Hunhu (operation maintain your dignity).
The women who went to court argued that the conduct of police officers, who indiscriminately arrested them, violated their freedom of movement and had the effect of placing a limitation on the rights of women in that they could not freely move around the Avenues without the risk of being detained.
The ruling, described as landmark, was welcomed as a major reprieve for women by human rights groups that for years had been angry with the gender discrimination associated with police operations.
“The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights took up the matter under its Access to Justice campaign in a bid to stop such discriminatory actions by the ZRP,” a statement from the right lobby group said.
But residents in the Avenues think they may now be paying a heavy price for the landmark ruling.