Working as a commercial sex worker

Noku thought she’d be working as a hotel manager, but on arrival in Nelspruit, she was informed that she was now a commercial sex worker.

Making use of my degree in Hotel and Tourism Management

Noku (not her real name) having been attracted by prospects of a better life and pushed by economic deprivation, left for South Africa after a relative had promised her a job, as a hotel manager. This was after she had completed her degree in hotel and tourism management from a local University, but with no prospects of employment in Zimbabwe. 

She had always admired her relative who appeared to take good care of her aging mother.

I became suspicious after meeting my employer

On leaving Zimbabwe, Noku had been provided with information about her prospective employer, as well as the money for her transport. On arrival in Nelspruit, she found her ‘employers’ who were a couple, waiting for her at the agreed meeting point. 

However, immediately after meeting the couple, Noku became suspicious that something was not normal: ‘the man was awkwardly rude to his so-called wife’. When they arrived to their destination, Noku was taken to a small room at the basement of a very tall building: ‘I was told that I will be working from here’. 

What made her more suspicious was the fact that the room did not look like an office as it had only a bed with no table or chair. It was when she started to ask questions about the work she had been hired to do that her phone and laptop were confiscated.

This marked the beginning of the endless rape and torture I faced until I came to a point where I had to comply. I was raped multiple times without protection.

Servicing my clients

The following day her lady employer came to her room very early in the morning with a half cup of tea and two slices of unbuttered bread. ‘I was told to have the tea quickly before I could start to service my clients’, Noku explained. At this point she tried to clarify that she had been hired to work as a hotel manager and was immediately informed that she had been sponsored to come and work as a commercial sex worker. As Noku recalled:

‘This marked the beginning of the endless rape and torture I faced until I came to a point where I had to comply. I was raped multiple times without protection. Rape became a daily routine for me. When I started complying on the advice of my lady host, who I later discovered that she was also a victim of trafficking, I started getting decent meals and was later moved to the upstairs room, which was a bit descent’.

Through the help of a regular client who had promised to marry her, Noku eventually escaped and managed to return to Zimbabwe. With the assistance of an NGO working to combat human trafficking, she was put on a rehabilitation programme, ‘to help me regain my freedom’ (Noku). While the programme indeed helped to address some of the psychological and emotional challenges that Noku was experiencing, it fell short of addressing the real underlying issues that had landed her into relationships of exploitation in the first place – poverty.

Noku’s situation and those of other survivors with similar experiences raise some important questions about the rescue missions, rehabilitation discourse and practices which are not directly focused at addressing issues of economic deprivation to enable survivors work towards achieving true freedom as autonomous, active and productive citizens.

Regaining my freedom

Through the help of a regular client who had promised to marry her, Noku eventually escaped and managed to return to Zimbabwe. With the assistance of an NGO working to combat human trafficking, she was put on a rehabilitation programme, ‘to help me regain my freedom’ (Noku). While the programme indeed helped to address some of the psychological and emotional challenges that Noku was experiencing, it fell short of addressing the real underlying issues that had landed her into relationships of exploitation in the first place – poverty.

Noku’s situation and those of other survivors with similar experiences raise some important questions about the rescue missions, rehabilitation discourse and practices which are not directly focused at addressing issues of economic deprivation to enable survivors work towards achieving true freedom as autonomous, active and productive citizens.