For sex workers in SA, everything is out of the pleasure zone
Like other Johannesburg prostitutes, Zandile dreamed of getting rich thanks to World Cup fans. Now, she complains that foreigners will be scared off by fear of AIDS and crime and there will be no World Cup bonanza.Updated: May 21, 2010 00:28 IST
Like other Johannesburg prostitutes, Zandile dreamed of getting rich thanks to World Cup fans. Now, she complains that foreigners will be scared off by fear of AIDS and crime and there will be no World Cup bonanza.
South Africa has the world's biggest HIV caseload, with 5.7 million cases, and foreign fans have been repeatedly warned in their home countries about the dangers of casual sex.
Last year, some officials warned that 40,000 sex workers would invade this country from around Africa, but with the tournament only weeks away, the reality looks very different.
“It's great that the World Cup will be held here... I just wish we could have a bit of the pie,” said Zandile, who works the streets of Sandton, one of Johannesburg's richest suburbs and a glitzy hub for entertainment and business.
Zandile and her colleagues fear the refusal of authorities to create safe areas for prostitution during the tournament will make it nearly impossible to attract clients.
“Foreigners and tourists don't like to look for the girls on the streets,” said Mudiwa, a Zimbabwean sex worker.
“The government needs to create a safe space for us, so that the customers know where to find us. When you get into a car, you never know if you'll be able to see your child again.”
Some politicians last year called for the creation of protected areas for prostitution during the WC, after examples of zones designated during the 2006 WC in Germany. Instead, cities such as Cape Town have preferred to clean up the streets, following New York's zero tolerance approach to crime. Advocacy groups also unsuccessfully urged the government to put a moratorium on prostitution-related arrests.
“There are so many logistical and political issues inherent in the World Cup that sex work is very low on the agenda...it's politically much more expedient to ignore the problem than to deal with it head on,” said Marlise Richter, a researcher who collaborates with sex worker advocacy groups.
Germany changed its criminal law around sex work ahead of the event, but in South Africa “that opportunity has been wasted”, Richter said.
The host cities have few plans for how to protect sex workers or their clients, saying that with prostitution still illegal, they were limited in what they could do.
“Police will abuse us. They will take us to the station and will ask for sex. Or they will say 'girls, let's talk...that's to see if we can talk money,” a sex worker said.
Prostitutes, especially those working the streets, are prone to being sexually and physically attacked. Others, pimped by gangsters or organised sex syndicates, are at the mercy of criminals who also supply drugs.
Prostitution is a crime in South Africa and attempts to at least partially legalise it may take years.
Activists argue that decriminalising the trade would protect sex workers and clients, ease their access to health care and help to contain the spread of HIV.
“The criminal law stigmatises the profession, creates barriers to reporting gender-based violence and gives clients an immense amount of power over sex workers,” Richter said.
First Published: May 21, 2010 00:27 IST