Eastern Cape to make sex work safer through decriminalisation

Eastern Cape department of social development undergoing consultation process with the aim of decriminalising sex work. Picture: Leon Sadiki
Eastern Cape department of social development undergoing consultation process with the aim of decriminalising sex work. Picture: Leon Sadiki

The Eastern Cape government is embarking on a process that could see sex work being decriminalised in the province.

In an interview with City Press last week, Eastern Cape department of social development spokesperson Gcobani Maswana confirmed that the department was undergoing a consultation process with the aim of decriminalising sex work.

He said this was one of the ways to protect sex workers, who are working under dangerous and risky conditions as a result of the industry not being regulated.

Maswana said sex workers were prone to abuse from clients who took advantage of their vulnerability.

“After we held a workshop with sex workers in 2017 a committee was established, but that committee never really did any significant work in finding ways to decriminalise sex work. But the issue of decriminalising sex work come out very strongly in a stakeholder engagement we recently held.

“We were warned as the department of social development to really look at the space in which sex workers operate because this is where drugs are used, where human trafficking is rife and where most of the crime emanates from.

“If sex workers come with strong views that sex work should be decriminalised, the department has no problem and will support that. But the process is still in its initial stages and there are lots of discussions yet to take place,” said Maswana.

*Nozwi has been a sex worker on the streets of Mthatha for the past 10 years. She says she was desperate to make ends meet, had no skill, no job and no matric certificate when she started. On top of that she had a child and a family to take care of.

She charges R70 “per round” and makes about to R1 200 on a very good night. She says she has used some of the money she made over the years to further her studies from Grade 8 to Grade 12.

Read: Doctors call for sex work to be legalised as Ramaphosa launches HIV plan

She is also able to raise her 11-year-old son and put food on the table.

However, Nozwi is quick to point out that their work is dangerous, especially if one is not working under the protection of a pimp.

Just last month she was robbed of the R500 she had made when one of her clients pointed a gun at her after they’d had sex and demanded she give him all her earnings for the evening, including the R70 he had just given her.

Nozwi believes decriminalising prostitution would go a long way towards protecting the many vulnerable girls and women who risk everything to stand in dark street corners because of the country’s high unemployment.

“We have all been victims here in one form or another. Some of the girls have been raped, robbed and even physically beaten. Sometimes the clients would demand to sleep with you without a condom.

“There is one guy here, for instance, who everyone is afraid of because he rapes prostitutes without a condom. Whenever his car comes we run away because we all know what it looks like and what he wants to do. Sometimes he uses different cars but because we know his face we just don’t want anything to do with him. So it is a good thing that government wants to protect the safety and the rights of prostitutes.

“After all, we are not doing this because we love it; we are doing it because we want to support our families, feed our children and lead innocent lives. But our work is highly dangerous and no one has our backs. When you are on the streets you are on your own,” she said.

The 30-year-old said it was not only clients who took their money; random thugs also robbed them at knifepoint sometimes.

Another sex worker, *Nolufefe, said owing to competition between the women and girls, some become “jealous and hire thugs to rob you if you are popular or have too much business”.

“While you are away with a client, when you come back you find yourself being targeted because you have money. The streets are very rough. You cannot completely trust even the girl next to you,” she said.

*Not their real names


How would decriminalisation improve the sex work industry’s safety, regulation, accountability and bottom lines?

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