‘Most of the women here are prostitutes’

2014-02-05 08:00

Susan* came to Marikana looking for work on the mines when she was just 16.

Eight years later, she’s earning a living above ground – between R70 and R100 per client she services as a prostitute.

It’s drizzling as we sit in a car outside the Survivor’s Tavern, where she solicits her clients.

Susan is unnaturally skinny, the jutting lines of her body visible through her pink velvet tracksuit.

Her voice is husky because she was out drinking last night, and her jitters and darting eyes suggest there wasn’t just alcohol involved.

“Most of the women here are prostitutes,” she says. “It’s bad, when you need money and you have to do that thing.”

“Sometimes I get scared. But I have a room to protect myself. I don’t go home with anybody. Maybe someone can’t stop, someone might wanna sleep with me the whole night. Here I can stop.”

Unlike many other prostitutes in Marikana who sleep on the streets, she pays R100 rent for a room in a house where she feels that she can call the shots.

She prefers it when a client stays all night, because then she can charge R350.

On average, at the end of a weekend, she brings home R1?500.

She’s unsure exactly how much she makes a month, because as her money comes in, it immediately goes to rent and food.

Then clothing, and if there’s any left, she buys beer.

Most of her clients are white men who work at the mines.

“White men are not my choice,” she says. “It just happens. White men like slender girls. The black men like nice bootie.”

She also says that many men sleeping with prostitutes are migrant workers from the hostels.

Their wives are back home, “and they say they can’t sleep alone”.

Some clients offer to pay her a higher amount to have sex without a condom.

“And I did it,” she says, “because I needed the money.”

Susan is HIV positive, but says that she cannot get treatment from the clinic “because I am still strong”.

Back home in a little town called Bhapong near Brits, Susan’s father works at a petrol station and her mother works on a flower farm.

Her son, who is now at school, lives with her parents. At the end of every week, she goes to the local Shoprite to transfer money back home.

She is afraid that her family might find out where it comes from.

Susan’s story is not unique. Samantha Hargreaves, gender and extractives coordinator at the International Alliance on Natural Resources in Africa, says there is a “widely acknowledged link between sex and the mining industry”.

“Where there are mines, the commercial sex industry often follows. This is arguably the result of the overtly masculine character of mining, leading to the geographic concentration of significant numbers of men who have migrated, usually without their families, in search of work,” she says.

Asanda Benya, a researcher in the Department of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand, agrees.

“The geography of mines and how it relied and continues to rely on migrant workers, and the history of South Africa which involved the migration of only one partner, has contributed to the rise of prostitution.

“Mine masculinity has also been defined along the lines of sexuality which, to some degree, is about multiple sex partners,” Benya explains.

Outside Survivor’s Tavern, the drizzle has become a hard rain. Susan puts her head in her hands, then continues: “I am worried what the people say about me.

They talk when we’re not around. They also talk when I am there. Maybe people say, ‘That girl, she sells her body’. I know they’re talking badly.

“I want to find the right person. Then I will stop. When I find the right person who supports me and my child. I would work in the mines … I would do any job, in a shop, in a restaurant.

“Sometimes you are tired and you want money,” she says. “Sometimes you just ... you wanna sleep alone. You can’t do that job every day. Every day. But I need money so I cannot sleep alone.”

* Not her real name

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