Sex work­ers keep beer flow­ing

African Independent - - NEWS - EN­ERGY BARA

COM­MER­CIAL sex work­ers in Chiredzi, a small su­gar cane grow­ing town in south-eastern Zim­babwe, have forced the re­open­ing of Chi­gara­pasi beer hall, the coun­try’s largest, af­ter threat­en­ing to stage a week-long naked vigil at the en­trance in protest over its clo­sure.

The beer hall, mea­sur­ing the size of three foot­ball pitches, was closed early this year with the lo­cal au­thor­ity, the Chiredzi coun­cil, claim­ing the bar was no longer mak­ing a profit – much to the sur­prise of com­mer­cial sex work­ers whose liveli­hood de­pends on the beer hall.

Pomp and fan­fare char­ac­terised the re­open­ing of the beer hall this month as hun­dreds of com­mer­cial sex work­ers turned up to wit­ness the his­toric oc­ca­sion.

While the beer hall was built to ser­vice lo­cal peo­ple, es­pe­cially su­gar in­dus­try work­ers, it had be­come a dar­ling for many peo­ple, es­pe­cially women who traded in the old­est pro­fes­sion.

The com­mer­cial sex work­ers had es­tab­lished a com­mit­tee to lobby for the re­open­ing of the bar and had re­solved to stage an all-night week­long demon­stra­tion while naked in protest over its clo­sure.

“We are happy that this bar has been re­opened,“said Sarah Gaye, spokesper­son for the com­mer­cial sex work­ers.

“At least all our ef­forts have brought some pos­i­tive re­sults and now we can af­ford to smile,” she added.

“We have been re­ly­ing on this beer hall for years to earna liv­ing since we used to get clients and in turn get money to look af­ter­our fam­i­lies,” said Gaye.

“We aban­doned the plan to stage a demon­stra­tion be­cause the bar is now open and it is busi­ness as usual,” she added.

Chiredzi ru­ral district coun­cil chair­per­son Fran­cis Moyo con­firmed the re­open­ing of the beer hall. He said it was as a re­sult of pres­sure from com­mer­cial sex work­ers who had pe­ti­tioned the coun­try’s lo­cal gov­ern­ment min­istry over its clo­sure. “The beer hall has re­opened be­cause of im­mense pres­sure from dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers, par­tic­u­larly com­mer­cial sex work­ers,” said Moyo.

“The min­istry of lo­cal gov­ern­ment had or­dered us to re­open the bar fol­low­ing a pe­ti­tion from com­mer­cial sex work­ers and we are happy that we have man­aged to get a pri­vate player to run the bar, “said Moyo.

Dur­ing its hey­day, the beer hall was known for ac­com­mo­dat­ing fe­male rev­ellers of all ages. It also ac­com­mo­dated trav­ellers as they could eas­ily kill off the night wait­ing to take their jour­neys the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

The beer hall was built in 1960 by the Nes­bit fam­ily, who were own­ers of sev­eral prop­er­ties in the area in­clud­ing the Nis­bert Arms, the only ho­tel in Chiredzi.

In the early 1960s it be­came so pop­u­lar and fa­mous it at­tracted ladies of the night from across the coun­try.

But fa­mous among them were two ladies, Molly and Hilda, who were honoured by town el­ders nam­ing streets af­ter them.

The street named af­ter Molly leads from the beer hall’s main en­trance to the west of the town.

Fit­tingly, the street is home to hun­dreds of com­mer­cial sex work­ers who pre­ferred its prox­im­ity to the beer hall for timely ser­vice to clients.

The street named af­ter Hilda, who was a strongly built lady, starts at the back of the beer hall to the east of the town.

The two streets are sep­a­rated by the gi­ant, pop­u­lar and fa­mous beer hall.

The re­open­ing was a mile­stone for the com­mer­cial sex work­ers in the small town.

The coun­try’s big­gest bar made a name for it­self when it was be­ing ef­fi­ciently run by Chiredzi town coun­cil. It used to be the lo­cal au­thor­ity’s cash cow which at one time man­aged to set off the coun­cil’s en­tire wage bill.

It was a place of high so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties that ac­com­mo­dated hun­dreds of rev­ellers at any given time be­cause of its space. What made it so pop­u­lar was that it at­tracted sex work­ers from across the di­vide.

Years later, the pomp and fan­fare that was as­so­ci­ated with Chi­gara­pasi faded. Chiredzi town coun­cil could not cope with the high op­er­a­tion costs that fi­nally plunged the beer hall into the red.

Like any other loss-mak­ing coun­cil-owned beer hall, the lo­cal au­thor­ity had no op­tion but to close shop for months which hit sex work­ers, who de­pended on the bar for in­come.

The re­open­ing has livened up the night life in the town where pros­ti­tu­tion is rife. “We re­gard pros­ti­tu­tion as a pro­fes­sion and we be­lieve that one can make a liv­ing out of it,” said 60-year-old Maria Gura, a for­mer sex worker.

“I have four chil­dren and among them one is now a med­i­cal doc­tor while the other is lec­turer at a lo­cal univer­sity,“said Gura.

“I man­aged to send all these chil­dren to school us­ing the money that I got from clients in this beer hall,” she added.

“We had ev­ery rea­son to smile be­cause as el­ders were not happy when this bar was closed,“she said, shak­ing her head.

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