TO many people, the shopping complex situated in Lusaka’s Mtendere Township is just like any other trading area but there is more than meets their eye — prohibited prostitution.
As hordes of people flock to buy various goods that some of the shops offer, what some customers seem not to be aware of is the existence of this illegal trade of prostitution which is a criminal offence in Zambia.
The complex is ever busy teeming with youths who patronise its shebeens to drink alcoholic beverages sold there. The shopping complex opens very early in the morning and closes around midnight.
Some young girls of school-going age with babies strapped on their backs are not left out as they also trek to the complex which unfortunately has become popular for all the wrong reasons.
The majority of the people who patronise this place are unemployed youths who come from places like Kalikiliki, Kalingalinga, Valleyview and Mtendere.
According to the people who are familiar with the happenings at the complex, the patrons do not only drink alcohol, especially opaque beer, but use the shops as brothels.
While, according to Zambian laws, bars are supposed to open from 10:00 hours in the morning to 22:00 hours in the evening, the drinking places located at the complex open as early as 06:00 hours in the morning.
The owners of the illegal bottle stores freely open their shebeens whenever they wish notwithstanding the fact that the place is just next to Mtendere Police post.
Sanitation at the trading complex is very poor as there is only one single ablution block with no running water.
The shops that sell alcohol at the trading centre have no trading licences but are issued with daily receipts by employees of the local authority.
This author learnt during an interview with some of the people who are familiar with the place that after some patrons get drunk, they use some of the buildings to indulge in sexual escapades.
Mailesi Phiri, who sells fritters near the complex, says some shops and bars operate as ‘brothels’ and that they open as early as 08:00 hours in the morning and close late in the night, with music blaring from the speakers in order to attract clients.
“These illegal liquor stores that have continued unabated to operate within this trading complex have continued to contribute to the increased prostitution as most patrons are using the shebeens as brothels whenever they get intoxicated with alcohol,” complained Ms Phiri.
Darmien Shonga wondered why the police officers and the council could not arrest the culprits who are engaging in immorality as well as operating illegal drinking places.
“The Lusaka City Council (LCC) working together with the police should start carrying out routine inspections so that they flash out these illegal traders who are operating ‘brothels’ at this place. A trading place should not be turned into a sex den. Moreover most of those who are engaging in the act are youths who were just ruining their lives,” observed Mr Shonga.
However, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) which owns the trading complex which houses more than 30 shops dismissed the reports that the area was being used a sex den.
LCC assistant public relations manager Brenda Katongola says the local authority would investigate the matter and take appropriate action.
Ms Katongola says it is illegal under the local Government Act of No.7 of 2007 that governs markets and bus stations to operate brothels in markets.
“As Lusaka City Council, we are not going to condone such illegalities in trading places … A market according to the local Government Act No.7 of 2007 under Cap 281 is supposed to be used as a trading area where people can buy and sell
goods and anything outside that is illegal,” Ms Katongola said.
She said the LCC would intensify its inspections in all market places in Lusaka in order to bring sanity in the trading centres stressing that if true, those who would be found to be operating brothels at the UNIP complex would face the wrath of the law.
Not too long ago this author investigated and wrote a story on how some shops at Soweto Market were being used as brothels.
Under the guise of selling merchandise, some traders at the market had been using the shops as sex dens with clients being charged between K10 and K80 for what is referred to as ‘short time’ service.
According to some sex workers, short time is a single encounter, while other services are negotiable depending on the venue and financial muscle of the client.
However, traders familiar with the illicit happenings at the popular market say some store owners masquerading as genuine business executives have continued using their shops as ‘brothels’ to earn extra income.
Most of the shops used as brothels are those operating as warehouses at night but are empty during the day while others have remained vacant and are used as brothels.
These illegal activities are also rife at Kasumbalesa border post market where people use makeshift warehouses, locally known as ‘depots’.
While it is difficult to clamp down on illegal sex in Zambia because there are no strict laws that deal with prostitution and the provisions which are there have weak penalties which allow the suspect to repeat the crime, there is need for the LCC to be proactive and vigorously arrest offenders perpetrating sex trade in public trading centres.
On the other hand, the onus is on UNIP who are the owners of the trading complex in Mtendere to be vigilant and police what is happening at their premises.