Truckers provide a ready market
The products themselves could be dangerous and are likely to encourage high-risk sexual behaviour
As office workers scurry home in the lingering light just after sunset in Harare, street vendors raise their sales pitches to prospective customers.
I n n o c e n t Mu t o p o d i s p l a y s his wares on the busy Leopold Takawira Street in the central business district of Zimbabwe’s capital. Pickings are rich tonight: his customers are queuing up and Mutopo’s merchandise — plastic packets the size of tea bags — are quickly changing hands.
“I have sex enhancers and STI [sexually transmitted infection] treatments today,” he tells a middle-aged man, waving at a batch of sacks, which he claims will cure STIs, “but I have run out of Congo Dust.”
The out-of-stock herbal sex enhancer is his most popular product, Mutopo says, while he is busy selling the man a container allegedly containing baboon urine. This is also a sexual enhancer, which he gets from the neighbouring province of Mashonaland East, he says.
The baboon urine costs the customer a $1 bond coin (equivalent to one United States dollar, according to the government) but Mutopo charges $2 for Congo Dust.
When his customer is out of sight, the vendor fishes a small bag out of his trouser pocket. He is keeping it for a regular buyer.
“AN INCREDIBLE MAN LOADER BAZOOKA SUPER ERECTOR THAT CAN DRIVE YOU UP TO SIX ROUNDS” it boldly proclaims on the piece of white paper stuffed into the small plastic bag of brownish powder. “All will be quiet but when action comes, ooh! You will see”, the packaging promises.
Mix just a pinch or two of the brownish powder with water and apply it generously to the penis between one and three hours before intercourse, Mutopo explains, and an erection will last for up to an hour. One sachet contains enough powder for two or three applications.
“Our sex enhancers give you more sperm power,” he boasts.
He does not know what his top seller really contains, though, saying they are “traditional African herbs”. His suppliers are long-distance truck drivers who bring the mix, and other sex enhancers, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia.
Congo Dust, like all unregistered sex-performance enhancers, is illegal in Zimbabwe. Shingai Gwatidzo, the projects officer of the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe, says there has been a surge in street vending and backpack dealing of unregistered medicines in central Harare.
“We don’t know how safe the majority of the sexual performance enhancers are or the quality and efficacy of the products,” Gwatidzo says, and the active ingredients in Congo Dust have not been analysed in a quality-controlled laboratory.
But “based on anecdotal reports”, they may contain complementary, herbal and ayurvedic ingredients and some are laced with conventional medicines.
The chance that these products may lead to severe allergic reactions or even death is a major conern. So too is the chance that they may fuel sexual behaviours such as multiple partners and unsafe sex that could put users at an increased risk of HIV infection, Gwatidzo says.
One of Mutopo’s regulars, a 35-yearold married man with two young children, who only gives his name as Moses, describes his living arrangements as “complicated”. He lives with his wife but “hosts” his girlfriend at a lodge for one night during the week as well as over weekends.
“That makes me tired at home when it comes to sex. If I use Congo Dust, I manage to balance my duties,” he says.
But an unsuspecting user may find himself with a prolonged penis erection of up to three hours, Evans Masitara, a member of Doctors for Human Rights in Zimbabwe, cautions. And, as unpleasant and extremely painful as this side effect may be, Masitara’s real worry is the link between having multiple sexual partners and the use of aphrodisiac substances.
“People will look for endurance with multi-partners,” he says.
At the Five Avenues Shopping Centre, near the red light district known as “Avenues”, Tapiwa Mashamba also sells Congo Dust and an array of other sex-enhancement tablets.