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KWANELE SURVIVOR MOVEMENT OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT

 

An open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa regarding  “decriminalisation of sex work” in South Africa

Dear Mr. President,

As women with first-hand experience of being prostituted in South Africa, we the movement of the survivors of the system of prostitution – predominantly poor black women from disadvantaged backgrounds – wish to express our shock, concern and disappointment at your recent support of the full decriminalisation of the sex trade at the opening of the newly built court in Johannesburg.

You state in your address that all relevant stakeholders will be – or have already been – consulted in this process. However, we do not feel that our viewpoint has been clearly heard. Our leader and founder wrote an open letter to you last year, stating our concern regarding the adoption of a resolution by the African National Congress to work towards decriminalizing the exploitation of vulnerable women and girls- referred to by you as “sex work”. Then, on the 23rd August 2018, two hundred of us, representing hundreds of other women from seven provinces delivered a memorandum requesting that you look into this matter and that you meet with us so that we can further elaborate on our arguments. However, we have yet to receive a response.

We would like to bring to your attention the fact that prostituted women do not wake up one day and choose to be prostituted. Prostitution is chosen for us by our colonial past and apartheid, persistent structural inequalities, poverty, past sexual and physical abuse, the pimps who take advantage of us and the men who pay to access our bodies for the sexual gratification.  Many of us have been severely injured, raped, degraded and even murdered by the pimps who sell us in this very exploitative system, and by the men who pay for access to our bodies. We think by now you should have started to understand why it is that we are concerned, disappointed and shocked that you pronounced that your government intends to fully decriminalise all aspects of the sex trade.

We need some clarity from you, in terms of what it is exactly that you mean by decriminalization of “sex work”? Do you mean decriminalization of pimping, brothel keeping and sex buying? If this is the case, please do take note of the following scenarios and let us know how your proposed and or preferred law will prevent this from happening?

Twenty-three years ago, Theresa “Trish” van der Vint said good bye to other prostituted women who were sexually exploited alongside her daily until late afternoon in the three-lined stretch of Old Faure Road near Eerste Rivier in Cape Town. Most of the women who were older rushed home to be with their families but the then 16-year-old Trish stayed on the beat a bit longer. As dusk fell that Saturday, a man stopped his car near her and picked her up. Once she was in his car there was no way out.

A few hours later her body was found lying half-naked in the sand, covered with branches near a footpath near Macassar Beach. Her legs were spread apart, her skirt pulled up and her jacket twisted around her neck and face. She was the nineteenth recorded victim of the “Cape Prostitute serial killer”. Murdered on 15th May 1996, Trish was his last recorded victim and also the youngest.

Eight years ago, the boyfriend of a woman whose body was found stuffed in a drain near Wessels Street in Pretoria, suggested that Wendy Riketso could have been murdered by her Nigerian pimp, from whom she had run away. There were confirmations from others that the said pimp had been harassing her and had at several times attempted to kidnap her. She was reported to have been prostituted.

In April 2013, Nokuphila Khumalo, another woman who was reported to have been in prostitution, was beaten to death in Woodstock. Renowned artist Zwelethu Mthethwa has been convicted of her murder and it is claimed that he was a sex buyer.

On 18th August 2014, the headless body of a prostituted woman, Desiree Murugan, was found by municipal workers at Shallcross Stadium in Durban. It is reported that the four teenagers who were convicted of her murder had bought her for sex at the time and then murdered her. Since she was prostituted it was argued that she was an easy target for them.

As if all of this was not enough, in January 2018, another woman, twenty-year old Siam Lee went missing from what is reported to be a brothel in Durban North. Her charred body was found two days later on a farm in New Hanover. Philani Ntuli, the man accused of her murder, is reported to have been her last “client”. In fact, many women who are prostituted and members of KWANELE have since identified Philani as a sex buyer.

If your decriminalization law is implemented how can will this prevent cases similar to those reported here from happening? How will full decriminalization of the sex trade remove the permanent physical and psychological scars the prostitution system incurs on women? How will decriminalization teach men that women’s bodies are not for sale? Finally how will it assist South Africa achieve gender equality, dismantle patriarchy and end men’s violence on women?

Finally, we would like to bring your attention to the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) Report issued in 2017, which recommended that South Africa does not enact a law which fully decriminalises the sex trade. Instead, one of its two key policy recommendations was that the Republic follows the Nordic or Equality Model, which has been successful in ending the exploitative system of prostitution. It has gained momentum since it was first pioneered in Sweden in 1999, followed by Norway, Iceland, Canada, Northern Ireland, France, the Republic of Ireland and Israel. Founded on the principle of gender equality it recognises and reflects the inherent inequalities within prostitution and aims to protect the rights of prostituted individuals.

We look forward to your response on this very important issue and hope we can meet with you in person to discuss this further.

Regards,

KWANELE MEMBERS:

Mickey Meji                         Nonhlanhla Duma                 Nonhlanhla Mkhize             Dudu Ngwenya                   Yongama Vula
Assaria Sungano                Xoli Gwala                             Ntombikhona Mlondo          Xoliswa Gqabuza               Tamara Nkohla
Julia Kgatlhane                   Nonhlanhla Mkhize               Zonke Khawula                    Nomakhosi Maqabela        Nomhle Bengu
Linda Ketje                          Philile Ziqubu                       Thobile Mbhele                     Lisa Ayetuah                      Noluvuyo Vuthela
Babalwa Phuthumo             Nontando Ngcobo                 Nosisa Caluza                     Lumnka Nyarhashe           Nomvuyo Dlokwenu
Hilda Tlou                            Athini Shabalala                   Ntombenhle Buthelezi          Ntomnizandile Maweyi       Ncumisa Pondo
Sithembile Gumede            Fanele Mdletshe                   Nontsikelelo Madikazi           Thozama Mfuleni               Yonelisa Jack
Nompumelelo Limekhaya   Thembisile Mzolo                 Zandile Gumede                    Zingisa Hoyo                     Phumza Ngxeba
Zinhle Dlamini                     Mabongi Zikhale                  Thembi Dlamile                      Kelly Ngwenya                Nolukholo Dyantji
Mary Mkando                      Ayanda Mncwabe                Zandile Mlaba                        Pamela Qashani              Sizeka Nyeleka
Thulisile Khoza                   Khanyisile Molefe                 Mapule Dick                           Nontando  Nongwe          Zikhona Jawuka
Phindiswa Klaas                Sbongile Mbongwana           Phindile Sibiya                        Nolusindo Mfuleni            Ntombekhaya Khunjuzwa
Sphindile Cele                    Nandi Dlamini                       Nosihle Mthembu                    Faith Ncube                     Lwandile Somdaka
Pulani Lesole                      Nomusa Duma                     Sthembile Gumede                Nokuthula Qaqavu            Suzette Jacobs
Nolwazi Ngwenya               Zama Mthiyane                    Zandile Biyela                         Sindiswa Tiyane           Nandipha Maqabela
Dudu Manana                    Siziwe Mngwemba                Sphe Dhlomo                          Georgina Chima             Vuyiseka Tsetse
Delia Scheepers                 Hlengiwe Chili                       Nandi Bhebhe

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VERA QWESHA’S STORY: PROSTITUTION CANNOT BE CONSIDERED AS WORK

Having grown up in a racially segregated country like South Africa, it was somewhat challenging to offer sex services to people I was not familiar with. I used my body to be defiled by different men from all over the world for money. Those clients came in different shapes and sizes with different racial groups such as Asians,Indians,Whites and Blacks. They had different tastes and preferences some wanted very strange or odd services.
As I reflect on my experiences, I came to realisation that the sex industry is not as glamorous as it is projected by those who lure people into it. There is untold economic, emotional and physical strife that prostituted women experience. Clients treat  “sex workers” like objects and consequently ill-treat them badly. Entering prostitution is to slip from one world to another because I could see many girls losing all that they had because of drugs, some were brutally killed, raped and strangled and some died through drug overdose. The memories are always resurfacing for sometimes at night I would lie down and tears will be rolling on my cheeks thinking about the pain and the trauma of prostitution up to different scents and smells of all those clients and also a lack of self-worth. The journey I traversed was very thorny and I can never wish it for anyone. I may have come back alive but the scars run deep.
Prostitution undermines women’s rights to gender equality and dignity by commodifying the sex act and treating women as objects to be bought, sold and abused. All women in prostitution are marginalized and exploited, therefore prostitution cannot be considered as work as it is a structural economic and patriarchal form of violence against women. As a result of this most prostituted women always say that they would leave prostitution if given other options as they do not regard it as dignified and decent work. And all the “sex workers” who have indicated with a high level desire that they would be doing something else under different circumstances, women expressed the desire for skills development programmes, formal jobs and assistance in business start-ups.
Vera Qwesha is a former drug addict, survivor of prostitution and author of My Journey from Grass to Grace, her own autobiography. 
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NOKWANDA’S STORY: PROSTITUTION IS VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

I do not want my children to follow up my footsteps.

I got into the system of prostitution when I was 13 years of age to assist my mother who was also at the time in the sex trade to raise my four younger siblings. Even though my mother was in the sex trade, life was not easy and we struggled a lot hence I had to also stepped in and assisted.

After my mom passed away, my life became so difficult that I ended up marrying a person who was a thief.  Being married to a criminal was not easy at all, that is what most of us women in prostitution are exposed to; eventually my husband was murdered leaving me with children to take care of.

This whole situation forced me to go back again to the street to sell my body in order to take care of my children. Prostitution has undermined my dignity so much that I am not even respected and I’m called names such as marhosha –  that what women who sell their bodies are called , sefebe – a whore etc in front of my children.

For most women in prostitution including myself, prostitution is not a free choice but a choice some of us had to make because of circumstances and those vary but in my case, it was poverty and seeing my mother doing it.

My mother was in the sex trade for many years yet she died having nothing and I came out of it empty handed hence because of this my siblings didn’t managed to finish school and our mother left us homeless, it is definitely not a future we can offer our girls as a profession.

The system of prostitution must end now; we need to deal with our poverty and to protect our dignity now. The life I live is not a life I’m proud of, we face many challenges in the streets with the buyers. They beat us, murder us and rape us and we are afraid of going to the police because they also do not take us serious.

I was not able to give my children a straight answer when they wanted to know where I work, to make matters worse they are all girls. I still would not be able to give anyone a straight answer even if prostitution is decriminalized tomorrow because it is not work to be proud of.

PROSTITUTION IS VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN.

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ZENANDE STORY: PROSTITUTION IS VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

My name is Zenande I am from the rural areas in the Eastern Cape.

I entered into the sex exploitation industry in 2011. I needed money and I was hoping to save that money to return to Varsity as I dropped out due to financial constraints.

I was so young and much in demand. Yet it was always difficult for me to price myself in terms of the services I offered. I came up with a plan to make it easier for me I asked a veteran prostituted woman who was a roommate of mine to put up the prices and she did.

From the onset the rules that I set were not being adhered to by these many men I encountered. It really depended on the money and the fantasy they had and most times they would change from the initial agreement and did as they pleased.

My first violation would be when someone would ask me “uthengisa ngamalini ? “– meaning how much are you selling for?

My heart would throb as I couldn’t give selling my soul to the devil a price and that price would be so disgraceful with my street experience I guarantee that there’s no amount of money that can compensate one for sexual intercourse with unknown males.

The other challenge is the time frame because as long as the man hasn’t reached an orgasm then he can have sex with you for however long he wants. And then there’s that gentle reminder with piercing eyes that says I have paid for having sex with you therefore submit yourself and let me finish “ngikhokhile,ungangijarhi!”  – meaning I paid so don’t rush me! I’ve also experienced being beaten up, raped and money taken back when I failed to fulfil the needs of these men.

The last straw for me was when I had a client for the night who ordered me to go down on him without any protection. He refused to use a condom and kept on bragging to us about how well off he was. He took me and a friend for the night for R2000 each. So our lives were worth a mere R2000.

I had to run around trying to find pep and in every clinic I went to I was told I knew my risk when I started selling my body therefore I cannot get pep. I had to pretend I was mugged and raped; it was easy because I had a blue eye and a broken rib from the struggle with that man so I got my pep. I realised I’d rather remain uneducated or seek any other way than let these men bruise and break me. The fact remains I got bantu education and today my matric is stale as I now celebrate 18 years of matric and nothing else. I am one of the few survivors that have internal scars but HIV negative by the grace of God.

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Poverty-stricken Nontando forced into prostitution

written by Thabo Tshelane, social media and communications coordinator at Embrace Dignity

When *Nontando (*not her real name) heard that Ntombovuyo Mtamo (a prostituted women) had died while sleeping on Voortrekker Road in Bellville she thought about her own life.

“I don’t have an ID and haven’t been home for ten years,” she says, referring to Umtata, Eastern Cape where she is originally from.

“I could die any day and who would make sure that my family knows about my death?”

Nontando was very young when she left home and started selling sexual acts to truck drivers because she needed money.

“It was 1998 when I started selling sexual acts in the streets. I was so poor. At home, when my grandmother passed way, there was nobody to look after us. My father also died and we were three sisters,” she says.

Nontando later left Umtata in the Eastern Cape for Cape Town where she continued selling sexual acts. She had to find a way to cope with her new life though.

“When I started sleeping with men for money I didn’t feel anything. I would drink a lot to numb the feeling and put it all off my mind,” she says.

“I was always drunk when I went to bed so that I could forget everything. Before I was in prostitution I wasn’t drinking at all.”

Nontando is still selling sexual acts today even though she wants to quit.

“I am thinking about leaving prostitution but I’m uneducated. I didn’t finish high school and it’s not easy for me to find a job. This is the only way that I’m able to put bread on the table,” she says.

As a prostituted woman, she also harbours a lot of shame.

“I didn’t tell my family that selling my body for money. It’s not a nice job. You don’t want to tell anyone that you are a “prostitute”.”

“I live in Nyanga with two other women who are also in prostitution. People make nasty comments about us when they see us.”

She faces the same abuse from buyers and has also been in fights with other prostituted persons when drunk.

“If there were issues or arguments then it comes up especially when we are drunk. There are usually misunderstandings on the streets.”

In the last few years, she says, her earnings have dropped considerably.

“Money has also become scarce. Sometimes I make only R200 a weekend and see two or three buyers. What I used to make sleeping with truck drivers in a day I can’t even make now.”

“You end up selling your body for any money that comes your way, instead of going home with nothing. But it’s exhausting. Sometimes when you get into bed you want to sleep forever.”

Many prostituted women are also severely disrespected by buyers.

“Buyers have robbed me and stripped me of everything I have. Some buyers have raped me and others beat me. When you enter a car you don’t know if you will come back alive or not,” says Nontando.

The disrespect she suffers at the hands of buyers are further compounded by how she is treated by the police.

“When you say you have been raped, they [the police] ask how have you been raped if you are sleeping with everybody. It’s better not to go to the police. Even if you go, there is no assistance. The police would laugh at you and mock you when you need help. They would say, ‘Go back to the streets, you are a “prostitute”’.”

Romantic relationships with men, she says, are also near impossible when you sell sexual acts.

“It’s better not to tell your boyfriend you’re in sex trade. I would lose my dignity and he would look at me differently. So I prefer that he doesn’t know.”

“But guys find out so it’s difficult to have a relationship. You rather leave before the guy finds out what you’re doing.”

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INFO FACTS SHEETS ON PROSTITUTION

We advocate for partial decriminalisation – or the Equality Model – wherein the sellers are decriminalised and offered a way out of the system through comprehensive exit programs, and the buyers and third parties are criminalised: INFO FACT SHEET – OUR POSITION

Current Legal Framework on prostitution in SA: INFO FACT SHEET – LEGAL FRAMEWORKS

The system of prostitution places people exploited within it at high risk of HIV/AIDS infection. It is indisputable that total criminalisation – South Africa’s legal model regarding prostitution – worsens the position and compromises the safety of those vulnerable to infection in a number of ways: INFO FACT SHEET – HIV AIDS

There are a number of harms faced by prostituted people given South Africa’s current legislative Framework: INFO FACT SHEET – HARMS

Social, economic, political, cultural and legal factors place vulnerable people in a position where prostitution is the only option available for survival, therefore significantly decreasing chances of not only preventing entry, but exiting the system too: INFO FACT SHEET – EXIT

The Equality Law was first introduced in Sweden in 1999 and has been shown to be highly effective in reducing demand for prostitution and making the country in question a more hostile destination for traffickers:INFO FACT SHEET – EQUALITY MODEL

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Embrace Dignity marching to Parliament on 26 April to end prostitution through Equality Law

On Wednesday, 26 April, a day before South Africans across the country will celebrate Freedom Day, Embrace Dignity will march to Parliament to deliver a petition to President Jacob Zuma to demand freedom for those still enslaved through prostitution and sex trafficking in this country.

Dubbed the #NoFreeChoiceMeansNoFreedom march, the organisers will hand over a petition that calls on the President to release the South African Law Reform Commission’s (SALRC) final report on Adult Prostitution and enact the Equality Law to end prostitution and sex trafficking in South Africa.

The purpose of the march is to hand over a signed petition and memorandum calling on President Zuma to enact a law that will prevent the oppression of prostituted persons by:

  • Making it a criminal offence to pay a person for sexual acts.
  • Completely decriminalising the sale of sexual acts and providing comprehensive support and services to help survivors exit.
  • Challenging the belief that it is acceptable to treat women and girls as sexual objects by paying them for sexual acts.

But why exactly are we so adamant that the President does this? The answer is simple.

Over the past 20 years, rates of sexual violence have increased in the country. Prostitution is one of the most brutal forms of sexual abuse, which is founded on and perpetuated by patriarchy (systematic unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed). Prostitution thrives on men’s sexual entitlement to women and other marginalised groups’ bodies. Current South African law makes the purchase and sale of sexual acts illegal. However, while some police officers are known to arrest and brutalise prostituted persons for loitering, buyers are rarely arrested. The overwhelming majority of those sold in South Africa’s sex trade are South African women and women trafficked from other countries. Reports indicate that prostituted people are beaten, raped, abandoned and isolated. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is common. One study found that 75% of a group of prostituted individuals in South Africa reported experiencing symptoms of PTSD.

In light of the need to address the harms of the sex trade, the South African Law Reform Commission published a Discussion Paper on Adult Prostitution and issued a call for public participation in the evaluation of the country’s law on “adult prostitution”. The Commission evaluated four major legal frameworks and submitted the final report and recommendations to the Minister of Justice who will publish the report after its consideration by the Cabinet.

We are calling on the South African government to enact the fourth legal option or the Equality Law model, also known as the Swedish or Nordic Models. The Equality Law model provides a framework that upholds gender equality and human rights. This model works to end demand for paid sexual acts by holding those who purchase sex accountable for the harm they cause. This model also mandates that the government provide prostituted individuals with comprehensive medical services, economic and educational opportunities, and alternative livelihood programmes.

In addition, it will serve as a tool to change the pervasive cultural paradigm that views women and other marginalised bodies as second-class citizens. This option would also provide an effective and comprehensive framework for combatting the spread of HIV/AIDS through targeting and eliminating the demand.

By enacting the Equality Law model, the South African government will affirm that women, girls and marginalised people are full human beings and not commodities to be bought, sold, abused and violated at the will of exploiters and those who purchase sex. We urge the South African government to affirm that women and girls are full human beings and not commodities to be bought, sold, abused and violated at the will of exploiters and those who purchase sex.

South Africa must NOT legalise or decriminalise the sex trade that destroys the lives and human rights of its most vulnerable populations who have absence of choice. We urge South Africa to become the first African country to adopt a law that will solely decriminalise prostituted people and curb the demand for prostitution.

If you believe in our cause, you can join as in person at the march:

WHEN: Wednesday, 26 April 2017
TIME: 10:00 – 14:00
WHERE: Cape Town CBD, starting from Keizersgracht Street parking lot, below CPUT

If you can’t join us in person on the day, you can still show your support for Embrace Dignity – who is supported in its endeavours by the international organisation, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – by signing our petition urgently calling on President Zuma and the South African government to enact the Equality Model legislation that will target the exploiters, including those who purchase sex, while providing protection and support to prostituted individuals.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD BY SIGNING OUR PETITION ONLINE.

Most importantly, remember to follow us on Twitter and to tag us by using our main hashtag #NoFreeChoiceMeansNoFreedom and any of the other hashtags: #ProstitutionIsOppression, #EndProstitution, #EqualityLaw and #Nordic Law.  You are also welcome to follow all the live action on Facebook by liking our page.

If you want to know more about our NGO, click here.

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