KELVIN MBEWE, Solwezi
THE journey from Chingola to Solwezi takes about 3-4 hours due to diversions as the road is under construction.
The ride is bumpy but thanks to the new road which is partly tarred, making the drive smooth in some areas.
Heavy duty trucks carrying copper cathodes from Kansanshi, Lumwana, Mukasashi and other copper mines are seen moving in the opposite direction, heading for Chingola.
There is little infrastructure along the way; a few shops, grass thatched houses and a lot of ant hills.
Local people are selling sweet potatoes, beans, Irish potatoes among other foodstuffs to road users.
It is only when one approached Solwezi town that infrastructure becomes co-ordinated. From restaurants to government and private offices, shopping malls to makeshift stores.
During the day, the atmosphere is generally quite with traders going about their daily activities of buying and selling at Kyawama market in the town centre, while the in the formal sector, people are going about with work in their offices.
The one thing that can be noticed in Solwezi town is the numerous guest houses, motels, and hotels doted around the place. It only makes sense when one experiences the night life of this seemingly decent town.
Among the local people, Solwezi town has become known as “Solwezi mabanga, kyalo kya mali,” which is a Kaonde phrase meaning Solwezi is in the night, place of money.
The phrase relates to the night activities of prostitution and alcohol consumption. Apparently these activities have been high-lighted by the booming economy as a result of the mining activities at Kansanshi, Lumwana, Musakashi among others, as well as other businesses.
This has prompted some people to take advantage of the situation to make quick money.
One of the sex workers only identified as Mercy, a light skinned young woman in her early twenties comes all the way from Kitwe to make some ends meet through prostitution.
Mercy and her friends rent rooms near bars.
Sunday Mail had an interview with the woman to find out more about the dynamics in night life in Solwezi town.
“I came here to make money because Kitwe has no business compared to Solwezi. I come and go whenever I feel like,” she said.
When asked who her main clients are, Mercy said anyone with money is welcome.
“It’s not all about miners, we have different clients especially truck drivers and businessmen within town, even the elite, as long as they have money,” she said.
Mercy says the night women charge K50 for a short time and K200 for the whole night.
She says she insists on using condoms to protect herself.
“No one can judge me. Sooner or later, I will repent and those that think they are holier than me will be the ones doing what I am doing,” she said.
Mercy and her colleagues stand outside the bars and wait for men who patronise the bars. Despite the cold, their dress code exposes their skin as an attraction for the men.
“Hello baby, are you looking for a good time,” is the most common phrase they use to entice the potential customers.
While some sex workers prefer operating from guest houses, motels and hotels, others station themselves in bars and night clubs.
A number of skimpily dressed women can be seen at local night clubs. Mostly between 21: 00 to mid-night, the number decreases as the night slowly fades away, a sign that some of them have been picked by men.
The activity is rife as the week approaches the end, from Thursday to Sunday. The earlier days of the week record a low turnout of women in bars and night clubs.
Solwezi residents are aware of the activities that happen in their town and it is not something sinister.
“We have a lot of prostitution going on in Solwezi. Most young women cannot venture into businesses and hence they resort to selling their bodies in exchange for money. This trend has been going on for a long time. You have to be very careful in this town, if you choose not to use a condom, you will die,” said Frank Chisiko a resident of the area.
Mr Chisiko claims that other prostitutes are wives of miners who spend most of their time in the mines and only go home after a week or two.
And Solwezi District AIDS Co-ordinating Advisor (DACA) Dunstan Sawomba has expressed fear that Solwezi district might record a relatively higher HIV prevalence rate if prostitution continues at the rate it is moving.
He called on stakeholders in HIV/AIDS activities in the district to intensify their sensitisation programmes.
These activities go on despite sections 146 and 147 of chapter 87 of the penal code stating that prostitution is an offence against morality.
The penal further says that anyone who aides prostitute, if found guilty, is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fifteen years.
It is for this reason that time and again, the police in Solwezi usually arrest the prostitutes.
In 2013, it was reported that about 137 sex workers were apprehended from various lodges and guest houses during a police operation in Solwezi.
The sex workers were apprehended between 21:00 hours and midnight at various lodges and guest houses within Solwezi central business.
And the then North-Western Province police commissioner Eugene Sibote said the sex workers had invaded various lodges and guest houses prompting Government officials and those from the private sector to face accommodation problems each time there was a workshop in the district.