Since independence Zimbabwe has embarked on several high-profile operations led or coordinated by State security organs. Most of the operations had noble intents yet the methodologies or vehicles of achieving the desired results were appallingly calamitous.
By Masola wa Dabudabu
Predictably, the flawed modus operandi begot unpalatable results that left the proverbial bitter taste in one’s mouth.
Most paramilitary operations so far carried out since independence were for political expedience. There were some operations meant to restore order yet others were purely for vanity.
The Gukurahundi massacres were originally meant to tackle a noticeable breakdown of law and order due to armed malcontents. Operations that include Chinyavada, Murambatsvina and Chiadzwa were for vanity.
Operation Chinyavada was carried out to remove the ugly face of prostitution from the streets of Zimbabwe’s major towns.
As early as 1983 the government embarked on eliminating the scourge of urban sex workers in an operation incisively code-named I (Shona for scorpion). Scorpions are known to deliver venomous stings some of which can cause death.
Operation Chinyavada was meant to deliver a paralysing sting to the booming sex industry. The concern was that prostitution was turning Zimbabwe into a sexually submissive and decadent society. The government oozed with optimism on the thought that it was tackling the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections from the source.
Operation Chinyavada literally curtailed the movements of unaccompanied women on the streets especially at night. Unaccompanied women were rudely rounded up and bundled into crowded police cells and charged with loitering.
Women who claimed to be married relied on their husbands bailing them out. Those who could not justify their presence on the streets were threatened with translocations to resettlement areas far, far away from towns; hence the operation earning the nickname “mindamirefu”.
The travesty in operation Chinyavada is that the police put a prostitute tag on all unaccompanied women and were treated likewise.
Most women experienced humiliation including rape by the arresting officers. Women who commanded respect were treated like murderers whilst innocent and fragile women were mixed with die-hard female criminals. A few of those caught included real prostitutes who regarded the police cells as luxurious compared to some environments they conducted their business.
The government had egg on its face as it soon realised that prostitution could not be wished away by instituting a sting operation. The uncaught women of the night easily breached the cordon and continued to practice with a degree of impunity due to their sheer numbers.
The government failed to appreciate that women were not engaging in the business for pleasure but for sustenance. The women chose to sell their bodies because the job market was saturated with illiterate and unskilled prospective workers.
It has to be remembered that by 1983, economic stagnation and drought were already imposing restrictions on creation of formal jobs.
Women cashed on the post-independence euphoria and the general recklessness of a male population willing to part with a little cash in pursuit of sensual pleasures related to the fruit of life (and death). The men who sought to pay for the pleasure were not from Mars but were earthlings who included ministers, soldiers, police officers, office orderlies, diplomats, factory workers, criminals and many others from diverse economic backgrounds.
The government learnt the hard way that it had acted heavy-handedly in an exercise of futility. The government missed an opportunity to educate the population on the hazards of prostitution. Such health promotion initiatives would have acted as a foundation towards curtailing future prevalence of STIs.
Indeed such a move would have had a limiting impact on the extent of the HIV scourge which at its peak decimated communities.
Over the years Zimbabweans have been hit hard economically leading to the current unemployment rate pegged at above 75%. In such a situation prostitution becomes less lucrative as unemployed males have no disposable cash. However, as Zimbabweans are ever innovative and enterprising, they invented an informal economy fronted by street vending.
Towns’ folks set about collecting whatever they could sell and put it on stalls along streets and voila; extreme street vending within a self-perpetuating economy was born.
The problem with uncontrolled street vending is that it muddles the poor-rich divide. The rich cannot stand a single stall of tomatoes and onions in the central business district, let alone thousands of offending ones all over. The rich are mainly politicians who rely on the poor for votes once in five years. The street vendors issue was a powerful election tool and now that elections have been won or lost, vendors have become an anathema that requires urgent excision.
The bigwigs need to perambulate towns’ streets without casting their eyes on repulsive paraphernalia and revolting smells from organic products that have seen the worst of days.
Government has taken to force in its quest clean up. Street vendors have now become unwilling recipients of police brutality and state terrorism in the destruction of their ONLY source of income.
What is happening now is reminiscent of operations such as Gukurahundi, Chinyavada, Murambatsvina, Bhadharai, Chiadzwa, Mavhoterepi and others. The question is; what next?