The streetwalkers of Zimbabwe

Times:

Lina thought that the streets of Harare were paved with gold, so it was there that she begged the bus driver to take her when her parents died leaving her an orphan in Zimbabwe's destitute rural west.

Princess came to the city after she was thrown out by the new wife her stepfather took after her own mother died from tuberculosis.

Precious came looking for an aunt she had heard was living here, peddling vegetables on the streets for a meagre living.

Lina, then 14, had no money for her fare, so the driver took her virginity as payment. Princess, then 13, sold hers for a loaf of bread after the police stole the peanuts she was selling and chased her off the streets. Precious had already had hers taken from her by a cousin who ambushed her on her way to school and raped her. So she was no longer a virgin when, at 14, she followed the others into prostitution, selling herself to strangers on the streets of Harare merely to survive.

“They are the chaff that has blown in here,” said the church worker who took The Times to meet the girls in the slums of Harare. “Nobody cares about them at all.”

The story of the children peddling their bodies for pennies is the story of Zimbabwe's rural poor. Ground down into a state of dependent impoverishment, the collapse of the country's rural economy has left them more desperate than ever. The Aids crisis, and the creaking health system it has overwhelmed, has left hundreds of thousands of children orphans, struggling to fend for themselves. As once-prime farmland fell back into bush, thousands picked up their few belongings and headed for the cities in search of a better life.

Lina came to the slums from far-flung Matabeleland, where President Mugabe sent his troops in the early Eighties to put down opponents, wiping out entire villages. It has been punished for its opposition ever since.

“I came to Harare because I thought people were rich here,” she said. But at the bus station people told her to go to the slums of Mbare, where “people like me” slept on the streets. She saw people hawking drinks, vegetables and nuts and thought she would do that too. But she had no money to start with and there was none to be earned begging. “That's when one of the other girls taught me to stand on the streets.”

Princess fared better, finding a vendor willing to employ her selling her vegetables in the street. But then came Mr Mugabe's social project, Operation Murambatsvina, or “Clean Up Trash”, a brutal push to clear the streets of peddlers and squatters and deny his opposition urban support. More than 600,000 people were made homeless in the purge.

The clear-up deprived Princess of her legitimate if meagre livelihood, forcing her to more desperate measures. “The police chased us and beat us if they found us selling,” she said. “And then they would steal what we had to sell.” In debt to her supplier, she had only one option. “The last thing I had to sell was myself.”

...

Have you heard Obama or Hillary Clinton say anything about the evil man who abuses people in Zimbabwe? What is their plan for stopping this tragedy? I ask because I know they have none and would oppose President Bush if he asked Congress for authorization to use force to get rid of a monster like Mugabe. The have become the protectors of the status quo for despots.

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