Chiredzi - A town in Zimbabwe has set tongues wagging after honouring prostitutes who plied their trade in the 1960s and 1970s.
Chiredzi, a small sugar-growing establishment in the Southern Region, is blazing the trail by recognising the sexual exploits of the women who were the pioneers of prostitution in the area by naming streets after them.
Prominent among these is a sex worker only identified as Molly, who was brutally murdered in Tshovani township in 1966, before Zimbabwe attained its independence.
Back then, men who came to the Lowveld to work in the vast sugar plantations left their wives in their rural areas and were entertained by sex workers, domiciled in the dusty streets of Chiredzi.
These streets are mainly around Chigarapasi Beerhall, the largest beer outlet in Zimbabwe, boasting five cocktail bars and a large open space almost the size of a football pitch.
During its heyday, Chigarapasi was a hive of activity with prostitutes from all over the country soliciting for clients.
Older women preferred to stay inside, while young sex workers lined up outside its perimeter fence illuminated by the bright street lights.
It is these women who gained notoriety and whom the local municipal council is now honouring. Besides Molly street, which is home to some of the well-known commercial sex workers who have something to show for their efforts – houses in their names – there is Hilda Street, named after another sex worker.
According to one elderly resident in the area, Grace Marova, they were still of school-going age when Molly died in a suspected arson attack.
“Chiredzi used to have thatched houses before the town was built. There were few houses where the Central Mechanical Department is right now, but Chigarapasi Beerhall was already there,” she said.
“It was built by a white busi-nessman called Nesbit who used to sell his beer there, since he owned a brewery, before he handed it over to the town council.”
Explaining the circumstances that led to Molly’s death, she said that one morning in 1966, when they were going to Gaba Primary School in Hippo Valley, she saw policemen picking up Molly’s remains after she had been gruesomely murdered.
Her angry boyfriend, who had accused her of cheating on him, had tied her to a bed, locked the door and then torched the house.
“It was a sad end to Molly’s colourful life,” said Marova.
Describing Molly, she said: “Molly was plump, light in complexion and beautiful, one would not believe she was a commercial sex worker.
“After Molly’s death, several stories of her ghost tormenting revellers and residents were peddled around, but to be frank, I am not sure if there was any grain of truth to it,” she said.
Chiredzi District Council chairman Francis Moyo confirmed the story, saying the incident happened before he was born.
“I know the whole story, but the only person who can give you details is Alderman Jim Mahiya. He was in council for a long time.”
Mahiya said Molly’s death was heart-rending; prompting the local authority to think it was noble to name the street after her.
“In fact, whoever was asking for directions around that area realized Molly’s name was used as a reference.
“There are other streets named after commercial sex workers, but Molly’s case was exceptional,” he said.
Blessing Mazinyani, Chiredzi Ward 5 councillor, weighed in saying the council should be applauded for naming some of its streets after commercial sex workers, but emphasised that he did not condone prostitution.
“Don’t misquote me. I am not supporting prostitution, but l am only saying that after the incident any right-thinking person would want that area to be named after Molly, even though the incident was nasty,” he said.
The chairperson for the United Chiredzi Residents’ Ratepayers’ Association, Josephat Tizirai, would not condemn the council for engraving the names of prostitutes on the street posts.
“I think commercial sex workers were the true and permanent residents of the town.
In addition to that, they were the ones who made the town popular, entertaining visitors.
“Also take note that it was done way back in the colonial era when most male blacks valued having rural homes, so commercial sex workers were the ones who were permanent residents of the town.”
One of the most respected religious leaders in the town, Amos Chari Mapfumo of Gigal Deliverance Ministries, said there was nothing wrong with naming streets after prostitutes, emphasising that the bible says: “Judge not lest you shall be judged.”
“The council is not to be blamed because in our church we feel everyone is a child of God,” he said.
He added that even Jesus Christ challenged people who thought they hadn’t sinned to be the first to cast a stone on a woman caught committing adultery.
“So everyone needs deliverance,” said Mapfumo. However, not everyone in the small town supports glorifying old-time commercial sex work in Chiredzi.
Madzibaba Ishamel of the Johanne Masowe eChishanu Church said the council was encouraging promiscuity by naming streets after people possessed by “evil spirits” which needed to be cast out.
“We don’t support promiscuity and if possible we urge the town council to rename the streets. We are here to cast out those demons,” he said.
Sex workers of all ages still loiter outside the bar, even though the council has shut down Chigarapasi, citing perennial losses.
* This story was first published on African Independent website. For the best news and analysis from the continent go to www.africanindy.com