Commercial sex workers in Chiredzi, a small sugar cane growing town in south-eastern Zimbabwe, have forced the reopening of Chigarapasi beer hall, the country’s largest, after threatening to stage a week-long naked vigil at the entrance in protest over its closure.
The beer hall, measuring the size of three football pitches, was closed early this year with the local authority, the Chiredzi council, claiming the bar was no longer making a profit - much to the surprise of commercial sex workers whose livelihood depends on the beer hall.
Pomp and fanfare characterised the reopening of the beer hall this month as hundreds of commercial sex workers turned up to witness the historic occasion.
While the beer hall was built to service local people, especially sugar industry workers, it had become a darling for many people, especially women who traded in the oldest profession.
The commercial sex workers had established a committee to lobby for the reopening of the bar and had resolved to stage an all-night week-long demonstration while naked in protest over its closure.
“We are happy that this bar has been reopened,“ said Sarah Gaye, spokesperson for the commercial sex workers.
“At least all our efforts have brought some positive results and now we can afford to smile,” she added.
“We have been relying on this beer hall for years to earna living since we used to get clients and in turn get money to look afterour families,” said Gaye.
“We abandoned the plan to stage a demonstration because the bar is now open and it is business as usual,” she added.
Chiredzi rural district council chairperson Francis Moyo confirmed the reopening of the beer hall. He said it was as a result of pressure from commercial sex workers who had petitioned the country’s local government ministry over its closure. “The beer hall has reopened because of immense pressure from different stakeholders, particularly commercial sex workers,” said Moyo.
“The ministry of local government had ordered us to reopen the bar following a petition from commercial sex workers and we are happy that we have managed to get a private player to run the bar, “said Moyo.
During its heyday, the beer hall was known for accommodating female revellers of all ages. It also accommodated travellers as they could easily kill off the night waiting to take their journeys the following morning.
The beer hall was built in 1960 by the Nesbit family, who were owners of several properties in the area including the Nisbert Arms, the only hotel in Chiredzi.
In the early 1960s it became so popular and famous it attracted ladies of the night from across the country.
But famous among them were two ladies, Molly and Hilda, who were honoured by town elders naming streets after them.
The street named after Molly leads from the beer hall’s main entrance to the west of the town.
Fittingly, the street is home to hundreds of commercial sex workers who preferred its proximity to the beer hall for timely service to clients.
The street named after Hilda, who was a strongly built lady, starts at the back of the beer hall to the east of the town.
The two streets are separated by the giant, popular and famous beer hall.
The reopening was a milestone for the commercial sex workers in the small town.
The country’s biggest bar made a name for itself when it was being efficiently run by Chiredzi town council. It used to be the local authority’s cash cow which at one time managed to set off the council’s entire wage bill.
It was a place of high social activities that accommodated hundreds of revellers at any given time because of its space. What made it so popular was that it attracted sex workers from across the divide.
Years later, the pomp and fanfare that was associated with Chigarapasi faded. Chiredzi town council could not cope with the high operation costs that finally plunged the beer hall into the red.
Like any other loss-making council-owned beer hall, the local authority had no option but to close shop for months which hit sex workers, who depended on the bar for income.
The reopening has livened up the night life in the town where prostitution is rife. “We regard prostitution as a profession and we believe that one can make a living out of it,” said 60-year-old Maria Gura, a former sex worker.
“I have four children and among them one is now a medical doctor while the other is lecturer at a local university,“ said Gura.
“I managed to send all these children to school using the money that I got from clients in this beer hall,” she added.
“We had every reason to smile because as elders were not happy when this bar was closed,“ she said, shaking her head.