By Kelvin Chiringa
Windhoek’s bustling night life begins to blossom out of the heat of the day, punctuated by a sudden rush of a chilly June breeze which sends a couple of revelers sauntering in nearby coffee bars along prime Independence Avenue.
Within the precincts of Slow Town Coffee Roasters, occasional beer guzzlers can be seen flaunting frothy beer-mugs filled to the brim by generous measures of the ubiquitous but succulent Windhoek draught.
All around, the chit and the chatter of familiar faces drown in the raucous din of careless laughter of a people trying to forget their everyday troubles, smoking through the latest on the economy, politics…
But as the traffic lights that superimpose the intersection of cosmopolitan Independence and busy Fidel Castro turns a luminous green, and so do the ladies of the night begin to traverse and shoulder their way to their nightly spots of business.
Just about that moment, the clock strikes 19:30.
Our curiosity and desire to dig deeper into how the economy has dealt with this oldest profession is what has brought us here, at these spots where Namibia’s dark economy plays out nonstop. At these times, the trade in sex begins in earnest right in the glare of Windhoek’s seemingly disinterested citizenry. On this particular night, the hookers are quite welcoming.
As we approach, they read our moves, trying to figure out whether we are potential clients, the feared undercover law enforcement agents or random passersby. Through the vagaries of a bone-grinding cold, it is easy to appreciate that they are not deterred from wearing skimpy top trending fabric which leaves nothing to imagination.
Their demeanor remains firm and resolute, but neutral, but as we exchange polite social niceties it breaks the ice of a lingering tension that had briskly yet subtly built up. Our presence is welcome so long we do not interfere in business and soon, we dig into a normal conversation which they lace with urban slang and semi-drunk chuckles.
“Operation Desert Storm you say? Yes we hear that people are getting beaten especially at such times but they have not dared us,” begins Kim, as we settle into conversation, “We are not killing people so why should they mess with us? For us it’s an agreement between us and our clients” We are aware it’s not her real name, but again that is the nature of the trade, yet judging by her accent it is also not difficult to guess where she comes from.“I was in Zimbabwe just a week ago, had gone to see my mother and son. Things are not looking well my brother but what can we do? We are here because the clients come here for us. Human rights activists have told them (police) to leave us alone.”
For Suzy, the fact that sex-trade is non-violent, that standing in the streets is not an illegality and that for as long as they do not break anyone’s car, that makes the trade as good as any other. Economic times have changed for the worst over the last three years that she has been running the streets, but she says she does not see herself exiting the profession anytime soon. Mainstream media reports have sounded alarm on the depression in the housing sector, agriculture and construction.
While once they used to charge between N$800 to N$1 000, Kim says her clients are beginning to protest those prices as exorbitant.
“Things are tight but for us as hookers we do not accept defeat,” Kim declares through a hoarse voice so strong as if to beat back the invading cold off her stomach.
“Zimbabweans don’t accept defeat, my brother! We have to hang on. It is the Namibians who are going to languish in hunger. You will see,” she stamps as she proceeds to handle a car that slows down by the traffic light.
Prostitution in Namibia is illegal. In some cases, police officers crake down these activities when hunting down for illegal immigrants.
While the practice is commonplace, but related activities such as solicitation, procuring and being involved in running a brothel are illegal. Experts have started the conversation on how best the country can tap into the so called dark economy for more regulation that reaps back returns.
“Our clients are just saying the economy what, what but they pay the high charges. And we are sending money back home. If they had come to a point of failing to pay for services, we wouldn’t be on the road,” another lady, a meter away, shouts over at us.
She refuses to be identified by name but voices that she reconciles her lower charges by making sure she gets as many clients as can make it possible for her to reach her nightly financial target.
“But if you create an impression of being loaded in the pocket we can still go further to hit you with a N$2 000 charge,” Kim’s voice booms into the night as she comes back to join us.
The sex-workers tell us that some were exchanging sexual favors for petty things as alcohol and cigarettes in cases where business is low. We get a chance to meet up with Ndeshi who says her charges are as low as N$100.
“I have a boyfriend but I have to make sure that I do not bump into him,” she says before she rushes away, half-frustrated that we were not around for business.
Kim says mostly it is Namibians whose charges can go that low.
“If you pass by with a fancy car you can sleep with them for free. But I do not check out your car because I do not put it in the pot for food,” she says. As we leave the sex-workers, they give us the impression that they yearn for a day that their trade will be officially recognized as they have no other lucrative means to take care of families back home.