By Tendai Chara
The ongoing “Operation Zvanyanya,” a blitz by the Zimbabwe Republic Police against prostitutes that operate in Harare’s red-light districts, has been hailed by many people as it is meant to remove “undesirable elements” from the city centre ahead of the harmonised elections.
Alleged commercial sex workers at Fife Avenue police post after a round-up
The watershed elections are slated for this Wednesday.
Although the operation restored sanity to some parts of the capital city, it also brought with it a lot of debate and controversy.
Parts of Section 81 (2) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, under which the alleged prostitutes were charged, were put under the microscope.
This Act makes it a criminal offence for women to loiter in public for the purposes of soliciting for prostitution.
A cross-section of people interviewed by The Sunday Mail In-Depth hailed the exercise and called upon the police to conduct similar operations on a regular basis.
However, a smaller section of those interviewed roundly condemned the operation with some people describing it as “unconstitutional and discriminatory”.
The exercise was, according to lawyers and human rights activists, a violation of human rights.
First to applaud the stance taken by the police is the Christian community, which welcomed the exercise a one that will rid the city of immorality.
“As a nation, we cannot stand aside and look whilst our capital city is turned into a Sodom and Gomorrah.
“We have visitors coming in for the elections and the prostitutes’ presence in the city centre was going to soil our image.
“We do not need these undesirable elements on our streets,” said Apostle Last Fundira of the Christian Aflame Ministries.
Pastor Fundira said that the police should, in future, also target homosexuals.
“There are places where gays and lesbians are known to frequent. I will be grateful if the law enforcement agents conduct a similar operation and flush them out. It is high time the Government acted on these people,” pastor Fundira added.
According to Harare provincial police spokesperson Inspector Tadius Chibanda, over 100 alleged prostitutes have been arrested as of July 10.
Interestingly, 35 men were also arrested and were charged with soliciting for purposes of prostitution.
“The ongoing operation has brought about the desired results. If one walks around the Avenues area, there is now order and the situation is normal,” Insp Chibanda said.
But while residents of the Avenues area were enjoying the unusual tranquillity that was brought about by the operation, some lawyers and human rights activists were crying foul, labelling the exercise illegal and discriminatory.
Jessie Majome, Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, joined the bandwagon, arguing that the operation violated residents’ rights to privacy.
“This operation is just something else and, worse still, the new Constitution has a provision for the protection of a person’s privacy,” Ms Majome said in an interview which was published in a local daily.
Others said that the law is discriminatory since men who were also soliciting for the services of the prostitutes were not arrested.
“It takes two to tango. Men who are caught seeking the services of prostitutes must also be brought to book.
“Otherwise such operations are not only discriminatory but also a waste of precious resources,” said Annabel Mutisi, a vendor who sells her wares in the Avenues.
Insp Chibanda, however, dismissed Mutisi’s allegation, saying that she was misinformed.
“Like I said earlier, 35 men were arrested as of July 10. Some people deliberately lied that men were not arrested in a bid to further their interests. Both men and women who were caught soliciting for the purposes of prostitution were arrested,” Insp Chibanda said.
The concerns have been raised over the failure to handle some of the alleged prostitutes’ cases properly, resulting in some alleged prostitutes spending days in remand prison.
Some of the key State witnesses have failed to attend court.
The police officers who were set to give testimony failed to pitch up for the trial of alleged commercial sex workers, resulting in those who had paid fines and those who had failed to do so being set free.
Defending the alleged prostitutes, lawyers Tawanda Zhuwarara and Kennedy Masiya argued that charges brought against their clients were unclear as the charge sheet did not specify where the women were found exactly and what they were actually doing.
Those that pleaded guilty were fined $100 whilst those that elected to fight the case in the courts were granted $200 bail.
Some of the alleged sex workers spent time in remand prison after they had failed to pay the bail.
The bail that the alleged prostitutes were required to pay was described by many to be “exorbitant.”
“I think US$200 was a bit too much. I know that fines are supposed to have a deterrent factor, but in this case, I think it was way too much” added Mutisi.
Although “Operation Zvanyanya” created a lot of controversy, the police still insist that it was necessary.
“The operation was instituted after a public outcry. We have managed to remove the undesirable elements that were, before the operation, conducting their dirty business in broad daylight,” Insp Chibanda said.
He said residents of the Avenues area called for police intervention after the daring sex workers and their male clients.
“I know that the operation caused a lot of controversy. Members of the public should know that such operations are conducted only when the need arises. It is the mandate of the police to maintain law and order and, as such, we will strive to do our best,” concluded Insp Chibanda.