Zimbabwe’s High-Risk Cross-Border Trade – Global Affairs

COVID-19 locking and restrictions meant that many informal sectors lost their jobs. Ineligible for compensation, some turned to sex work. Credit: Mark Phiri / IPS
  • by Ignatius Banda (bulawayo, zimbabwe)
  • Inter Press Service

“That was last year, and I had absolutely no idea what to do next,” Mtshali told IPS.

Prior to the confinement, she made up to four trips a month to Musina and Johannesburg in neighboring South Africa to buy goods from clothing to electrical appliances for resale in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city.

And according to her account, the money was good.

“I could rent a full house in the suburbs, and my long-term plans have always been to build my own home,” she said.

After months of unemployment in Bulawayo, a colleague informed her of what appeared to be an easy way out of her money problems: truckers were not banned from transporting goods between South Africa and Zimbabwe.

As truckers remained stranded at the Beitbridge border post for weeks waiting for their shipments to be processed by port authorities, it introduced a new venture for informal cross-border traders such as Mtshali: sex work.

Today, Mtshali, who has two young children back in Bulawayo, rents a small shack in the border town where she “distracts” truck drivers and other men willing to pay for sex.

Commercial sex work is illegal in Zimbabwe, but COVID-19 has transformed the sector into a necessity for many women who have been laid off due to confinement measures imposed by the government due to public health concerns.

“I don’t want to do this, but it’s better than sitting and waiting,” Mtshali said.

“My children are with my mother, and they only know that I work in Beitbridge. While I’m sending them money and food, they don’t need to know anything else, ”she told IPS.

Local residents, however, complain that despite the restrictions of confinement that banned travel through cities, there appeared to be an influx of sex workers to the border town, each seeking to make a living.

“We’ve always had a problem here with sex workers, young and old competing for clients. But now we see even more after the borders are closed, ”said Dumisani Tlou, a resident and taxi driver.

“Every tenant knows they can rent any available back room to the women who host truckers and other illegal dealers, but no one seems to do anything about it,” he told IPS.

While the Zimbabwean authorities have struggled to provide rescue grants for informal traders, this has been criticized for being too little to improve the lives of millions on the fringes of official economic activity.

Many more, like Mtshali, have missed the rescues because they are not registered at any informal association of traders.

“It is necessary to consider special exemptions that will allow cross-border traders to import goods during the blockade and border closures,” said Fadzai Nyamande-Pangeti, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration – Zimbabwe.

“It is also important for women cross-border traders to formalize their businesses, to reduce them affected by shocks caused by the pandemic,” she told IPS.

However, for many here at the border town, sex work comes with challenges.

While borders have been closed to public health measures, this has exposed sex workers to concerns about HIV / AIDS.

“These women do not have social protection or insurance or any other mitigation measures to alleviate them in times of disasters like the current pandemic,” said Mary Mulenga, a representative of the Association of Cross-Border Traders of South Africa (SACBTA).

In a submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Health before the UN General Assembly in October, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (GNSWP), which brings together organizations led by sex workers across ninety-six countries, says, “during the pandemic., there has been a (global) drop in the availability of HIV treatment services due to the priority of treating and stopping the spread of COVID-19. “

“As a result, sex workers living with HIV have experienced even greater challenges in accessing HIV treatments, further endangering their health and ability to work,” the network says in its report to the UN.

Truckers have for years been identified as a high-risk HIV / AIDS group in southern Africa, causing concerns among activists, such as the GNSWP, that while resources are directed to address the spread of COVID-19, both old and new entrants into the sex trade such as for example Mtshali are abandoned.

According to the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), informal cross-border trade accounts for up to 40 percent of South Africa’s in-trade estimated at $ 17 billion annually. However, border closures reversed this due to COVID-19.

Despite these disruptions brought about by the new coronavirus, the once thriving informal cross-border trade could present more public health concerns: an increase in those living with HIV / AIDS.

In recent months, Zimbabwe’s First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has launched nationwide self-sufficiency projects for sex workers. However, with the industry continuing to accept new entrants such as Mtshali, it could be a race against daunting difficulties as global health experts see no easy end to COVID-19.

  • The Pulitzer Center supported that story.
  • Name changed to protect identity.

© Inter Press Service (2021) – All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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