August saw a massive police crackdown on sex workers in the capital, Harare. Although sex work is illegal in Zimbabwe, civil liberties groups were concerned that police were violating the human rights of sex workers in their arrests. Police officials claimed that they were simply doing their job. While sex workers, on the other hand, accused the police of arresting them and afterwards demanding sex in exchange for their release.
The reason for the police clampdown on sex work was the then upcoming United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) summit in Victoria Falls (August 25th to 29th). The tourism and hospitality ministry estimates that nearly 3,000 delegates attended the four-day summit, which Zimbabwe was co-hosting with neighbouring Zambia.
"We are aware of the possibilities of conflict between sex workers and police," said Tinashe Mundawarara, programme manager for the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). "As a law-based and human rights institution, we will, as we have always done, respond to any arbitrariness by the police."
Since the start of the crackdown the ZLHR has helped to defend over 60 women. Mundawarara said the unlawful arrests had stripped the women of their dignity. "It is sad to note that such prehistoric approaches to law enforcement are still being practised by our police force 33 years after independence," Mundawarara added.
Related history flash-back:
Spartumburg Herald- Journal (November 13, 1983)