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Op-Ed: A Call for South Africa to pass the Equality Law now and END Gender Based Violence

This opinion article was written by our Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge for Sunday Independent, it was published on Sunday Independent on the 8th September 2019.

That South Africa is a war zone for women and children is beyond question. Nothing could have driven this message home more effectively than the brutal murder and rape of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year old UCT student who had gone missing after she went to collect a parcel from the Post Office. President Ramaphosa has called it a “watershed moment” for South Africa as we try to grapple with the pandemic of gender-based violence. Despite the national outcry, the killing of women continues unabated.

At Embrace Dignity we are campaigning for the Equality Law to end the system of prostitution and its objectification of women and related gender based violence. The Equality Law is also known as the Nordic/Swedish Sex Buyer Law or, loosely, partial decriminalisation. It is the only coherent and comprehensive strategy for dealing with the system of prostitution and protecting women. The system of prostitution is a societal problem and not a private matter between two consenting adults. It is exploitative, discriminatory and violent. It is deeply embedded in inequality and it perpetuates patriarchy.

In the Equality Law those who are bought and sold for sex are not criminalised and are offered support for exit. The buying of sex is criminalised, so too are pimping, brothel keeping and third party profiteering. This shifts the criminality and stigma from vulnerable women and girls, to those who exploit and exercise financial power over them.

The Equality Law targets the demand for prostitution, which in turn provides the demand for sex trafficking. It importantly carries the message that women’s bodies are not commodities and objects of men’s sexual gratification.

Sweden pioneered the law in 1999, and there has been a shift in public attitudes. The majority of men no longer consider it cool to buy sex, and those selling sex partner with the police in fighting any abuse and organised crime. Street prostitution has been halved and sex trafficking is almost non-existent.

Norway and Iceland (2009), Canada (2014), Northern Ireland (2015), France (2016), Ireland (2017) and Israel (2018) have since adopted this law. South Africa could be the first African country to adopt it and join this growing trend of law reform to address patriarchy and promote gender equality, and more importantly to end the commodification of women and gender based violence.

Within the context of poverty and high levels of unemployment, South Africa needs to seriously consider the Equality Law as the only rational policy choice to end gender based violence.

There has been progress with the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) releasing its final report on Adult Prostitution. It includes a form of the Equality Law as Option One. The Commission strongly rejected total decriminalisation as an option and outlined among the reasons the fear that it would expand the sex industry and the extent of abuse and gender based violence instead of curbing it.

The Report of the High Level Panel, known as the Motlanthe Report, called forParliament to use its powers to amend the present Act to “decriminalise prostitution in order to remove the unintended consequences arising from the criminalisation of prostitution for those who sell sex”.This is consistent with the Equality Law as it calls for the removal the unintended consequences arising from the criminalisation of prostitution for those who sell sex. It is significant that they do not include the removal of the consequences of the criminality for those buy sex, pimp or run brothels.

At its 54th Elective Conference the ANC passed a resolution that “The calls to decriminalise Sex work must be subjected to a high level discussion and engagement with relevant multiple stakeholders, and to continue to engage society on this to determine the societal norm. Sex workers must be protected.”This  is consistent with the Equality Law, and it is significant that it does not state that sex buyers, pimps and brothels must be protected from the law.

In addition Embrace Dignity petitioned Parliament to investigate the harms of prostitution and legislative frameworks that would address these harms. The Petitions Committee of the NCOP issued its final report on our Petition after public hearings and a trip to Sweden to study the Equality Law there. They unanimously adopted the report.

The present prohibitionist  system of total criminalisation, even with diversion, is not the answer as it does not address the fundamental factors that drive women and other marginalised bodies into prostitution and it does not have a clear strategy to address the issue. It is those who are harmed and exploited in the system of prostitution who are inevitably blamed and stigmatised.

Total decriminalisation or the ‘sex work’ position would be a disaster for South Africa as it would expand the exploitative sex industry and give free reign to the abuse of the vulnerable. It would turn South Africa into a pimp state. Prostitution cannot be considered work. It would be wrong for the poor to be offered prostitution as a solution to the problem of unemployment.

My call to South Africa is to pass the Equality Law now and end gender based violence. Do not turn South Africa into a pimp state.

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A female sex trade survivor : I wanted to escape but I didn’t know how to

This article was published on Times Select on the 10th June 2019.

For Phindiswa Klaas, 35, working in the sex trade was not something she had ever thought about. She had grown up in Engcobo in the Eastern Cape with her mother and four sisters.

“Then, in 1998, I moved to Cape Town with my father’s family,” she says.

Living in a household with 13 people in the the under-resourced area like Site B in Khayelitsha, Phindiswa had little hope that a great future awaited her. Then, she met a young man who soon became her boyfriend.

Soon after they had met, he encouraged her to leave her family.

“He said ‘come and live with me’. And so I went,” she says.

“Towards the end of 2001, I was pregnant with our first daughter, and I moved in with him, but his sisters kicked me out of his house, telling me that I am very young to stay with a man. I told them that I am pregnant with his daughter and then they allowed me to stay,” she recalls.

Then, her boyfriend took her to the neighbours who began telling her that there were job prospects in Mfuleni, which is about 5km away from Site B.

Her boyfriend gave her R20 for transport, and off she went.

“When I got there I met some ladies and said: ‘Please, I want to join you in whatever business you are doing’. I needed money and they were getting money.”

The women, seeing that she was clearly still in her early 20s, told her she was too young for such business but she was desperate for money and insisted.

But the horrors of the work soon became very apparent to her: “In that period, I quickly became more trapped in system of prostitution and my first experience is when a sex buyer dragged me to very dark bushes and sexually abused me and left me lying helpless in those bushes.”

It was two years later when she was desperate to get out of the system that she took up voluntary work for the ANC. By then, the boyfriend who had pimped her was no longer around.

“After volunteering, I got a job opportunity, a three-months contract. By that time I found a boyfriend who was also permanent working for ANC, and he married me.”

When the three-month contract was over, Phindiswa felt like her life could get back on track, but once again she had no income. She and her boyfriend had had a baby, so now she had two children, and no money.

She then found a job as a parking marshal, and still held hope that things would turn around. But the salary was so small it could hardly be called a living wage.

“Bear in mind that I was still married so where down the line my husband discovered that I’m a prostitute things became very bad at home and he divorced me,” she says, adding: “I knew what I was doing was not right and I wanted to exit prostitution but I did not know how.”

Pretended she sold drugs

Phindiswa had another baby girl, and saw no other way of making a living. She says that the hardest part about it was doing it to feed and clothe her children, while also having to hide from them how she was making a living.

She once even pretended to them that she was selling drugs as a way of explaining her secretive behaviour. But her children remained suspicious.

“A man would come to the house and if he left a bottle of brandy, for example, my children would see it and ask: ‘Is there a man here? Why was there a man here?’”

After years of finding herself in sexually and otherwise abusive situations just to earn a living, Phindiswa finally joined an NGO, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce. Here, she campaigned with others for the inclusion of sex workers as respected and valued members of society, and carried on working as a sex worker.

But later she realised that this did not fit in with her own ideology. She felt like the sex trade had violated all her human rights and no longer wanted to campaign for it to be seen as a legitimate way to make money that should be regulated and its workers protected.

Earlier in 2019, she joined the Kwanele survivors’ movement and says: “Enough is enough.”

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A survivors’ group: Do not offer sex work to us as a solution

This article was published on Times Select on the 10th June 2019. 

Mickey Meji is the leader of a prostitution survivor movement called Kwanele, which is supported by NGO Embrace Dignity.

Unlike other forms of advocacy that seek to make the trade legal and regulated and remove the negative stigma of the word prostitution itself, Meji is all about an exit plan for those stuck in the system.

“South African survivors of the system of prostitution have been dehumanised, humiliated and stripped of our dignity as, invariably, black, poor African women,” she says.

She says survivors do not want the system of prostitution to be decriminalised, legalised and “offered to us as a solution for unemployment and poverty”.

“We call upon government, our countrymen and women to embrace us and shift the burden, stigma and accountability to the men who take advantage of our vulnerability,” she says.

According to Embrace Dignity, reasons that many mostly poor and mostly black women and other marginalised individuals give for entering the system of prostitution include to feed and support families.

They are pushed into the system by cycles of poverty, unemployment, retrenchment, death of a breadwinner, not completing school as a result of needing to raise or help raise siblings, and by being orphaned.

Some are also forced into it to pay off loans, while others have run away from home after being sexually and physically abused.

An international study that looked at nine countries, including SA, found that 63% of those in the sex trade were sexually abused as children. This was after interviewing 854 people working in the sex trade.

It was also found that almost 60% had been beaten as children, to the point of injury, and that 64% as adults in the sex trade had been threatened with a dangerous weapon. Physical assault was high at 71%, and 63% had been raped.

Lead author Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist, said, “We asked those we interviewed in six countries (Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, SA and Zambia) whether they thought that legalising prostitution would make them physically safer. Across countries 46% stated that prostitution would be no safer if it were legalised. It is noteworthy that in Germany, where brothel prostitution is legal, 59% of respondents told us that they did not think that legal prostitution made them any safer from rape and physical assault.”

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who founded Embrace Dignity, says: “A common thread of poverty and human rights abuses all too often runs through the life stories of many survivors of the system of prostitution.”

When there is a major sporting event, it “boosts” the industry: “We are seeing a trend with not least mega-events such as major South African horse races where women are paid to fly to the race and pander to the whims of their so-called ‘blesser’,” says Madlala-Routledge.

“While society tends to judge many of these women as materialistic and so-called millennials eager to add to their shoe collection, the reality could not be further from the truth, and we need to be clear about the reasons that resulted in them accepting the advances of a ‘blesser’ in the first place,” she adds.

Meji says that given that the SA girl child is increasingly assuming the role of breadwinner, the fate of SA society depends not least on ensuring that marginalised individuals trapped in the system of prostitution are given exit programmes.

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A male survivor of prostitution: How can you call it ‘work’ when you could be killed?

This article  was published on Times Select on the 10th June 2019.

Zola Ncapayi, who now lives near Delft in Cape Town, grew up in the Eastern Cape, attending school first in Grahamstown and then Port Elizabeth. He grew up with his parents and two brothers (one older, one younger), and had always dreamed of being a teacher. After matric, he attended the University of the Western Cape where he finished his degree and then worked as a teacher for several years. It seemed as if his life was mapped out for him – although keeping his homosexuality under wraps wasn’t easy, he had a stable job, a loving family, and got much satisfaction from working as an educator.

Desperation comes

Ncapayi taught in township schools in Cape Town and eventually settled in the suburb of Observatory and taught at a school in Salt River. But, when his father died, the emotional impact on him was so severe that he began drinking.

“In 2009, my father died. I was so traumatised, I starting drinking heavily and eventually lost my job as an educator,” he says.

In 2011, with no money to pay his rent in Observatory, he moved back to the townships and, although he didn’t touch cigarettes or drugs, he “couldn’t control” himself with alcohol.

Falling apart emotionally, and under major financial stress, he turned to a very close female friend.

“I trusted her the most and shared everything that was happening to me. She knew about my financial status because I told her, and then one day she asked me a very strange question: ‘Zola, do you need easy quick cash without working hard?’ I looked at her and said: ‘My friend, which drug are you using? How is it possible to get money out of nowhere?’”

This was the beginning of a horrific journey that would take Zola’s life completely off course. His friend kept quiet, and took him to a place where she said she made easy money.

First encounter

“I still remember it was January 25 2010. I became so curious and interested to know how she is making these miracles. She said we would leave at 6pm and I must dress like a woman.”

She gave him the props: tight pants, high heels and a wig.

“She even showed me how to wear makeup,” he recalls, adding that it was the first time he had cross-dressed and it made him very uncomfortable.

They boarded a taxi to Epping.

“Bear in mind that time I knew nothing about prostitution. I only heard people talking about it but I was not interested to know the details about it because it did not concern me,” he says. “When we arrived at the Epping truck stop, she introduced me to a man who was in a huge truck.”

This was how she introduced him: “This is Zola, the one I promised you.”

He says: “Then I took two steps back and asked her: ‘Is this real, my friend, are you selling me to this man to kill me?’”

She told him to jump in a truck with the man and not ‘ask stupid questions’. The man drove the truck into the truck stop and offered Zola a drink. With his nerves shattered, he asked for a brandy.

“The way I was so nervous, I wanted to be drunk so that whatever happened I cannot actually feel.”

He knew something strange was going on but still did not realise he had been “sold” by his friend as a prostitute.

When the man began discussing “the price”, Zola told him he didn’t understand. Eventually, the man said he would “do whatever” Zola needed financially as long as he “satisfied” him sexually.

“Because I was very desperate that time for money I gave him a very big yes. After all that conversation, he said let’s go back to the truck.”

Zola says: “He started touching me. I stopped him and asked if he knew I wasn’t a woman. He said he does men and women and that was why he had asked my friend to bring me.”

Zola was repulsed by the man’s large body, but pretended to like him. They spent the night together, with Zola satisfying the man’s needs. In the morning, the man proposed being Zola’s regular client, which insinuated some type of ownership, and handed over R900.

Relieved at having earned “quick” money, Zola then entered a life of prostitution with this man, but “I still didn’t call myself a prostitute – in my mind I had finally found a man who is willing to provide and make me happy.

“The first week everything went well with my first client. In that week I had more than R3,800 because that guy was giving money every morning until he left to Johannesburg where he came from.”

The underworld

Zola’s friends promised to find new clients for him, but “other prostituted women started getting jealous of me and started fighting with my friend, telling her to keep ‘that moffie’ (me) away or they will deal with her”.

Next he was introduced to a man who showed him another underworld of “indoor selling”.

“That man took me to a hothouse in Green Point where he was making business. Things were not the same as the truck stop where I started prostituting. I had to dress like a man.”

He now began performing sex acts that made him feel extremely uncomfortable – like rimming and fisting, threesomes, and being forced under threat to have sex without a condom.

“It was difficult to adapt but I had no choice because I was desperate for money, and I got used to it. I also sold sexual acts to more than three or four different men per night.”

Having risked his life with unprotected sex, his “pimp” then demanded more money than agreed upon and forced him to pay for drinks at a local pub. Zola felt like he had compromised himself on so many levels out of desperation for the money, and was now being fleeced by the man who had pimped him. After a fallout, he left the pimp, and thus began another dark chapter in his life.

Working on the street

With no pimp, Zola now worked for himself and became what he calls “a street-based prostitute in Sea Point on Beach Road”.

“Things were hectic. There was a lot of competition and jealousy – we had to run for ‘clients’, four or five of us running for one client. Things were a little bit better in my first three days because I was a new face so I had many ‘clients’ … There were days where I stood and walked up and down the whole night and went home without making a cent.”

One night, things took a turn for the worse, bringing Zola face to face with the true fear of the world he now found himself in.

One night, a man in a fancy X3 stopped and took Zola and a few others with him. He was being so polite and kind that it unnerved Zola who wondered what the man was getting up to. He, the client, said he was going to take them to his house but would stop somewhere en route for drinks.

In the car, he asked: “How many of us are doing drugs and how many are drinking?”

The other three were all users of injectable drugs. Zola wasn’t.

“Then he took us to the nearest pub to buy few beers for him and me,” Zola says, adding that the man then gave the other three money for drugs, before zooming along to the Sea Point police station. Zola, assuming he was not from Cape Town and was lost, said to him: “Sir, this is not a pub.”

Then the man took out his badge and shouted: “You bastards are now all under arrest for loitering.”

“I started crying and begged him and I even said I am willing to do whatever he tell me to do to not go to jail,” Zola recalls. The undercover policeman drove back to Beach Road and told the three other men to get out of the car. Zola tried to run but the policeman threatened him with a gun and said: “If you try run I will blow your head off.”

The policeman drove him to a dark and secluded place, where he forced Zola to take his pants off.

“I was so nervous and shaking that I took more than five minutes to take off my pants. Then he kicked me and I fell. He dragged me to the back of his car and undressed me. After that he forced me to suck his dick. Then he raped me several times without a condom right up until the morning.”

Illness

Devastated by the experience, Zola stayed off the street for a month, even knowing his livelihood would come to a halt. During that phase, he began to feel sick and went to the clinic. There he received news that landed on him like a ton of bricks: he had contracted syphilis and also needed an HIV test.

It came back positive.

“That was the worst traumatic time of my life. I felt suicidal, but because of the support I had from Health4men and Desmond Tutu HIV Research Foundation I accepted my status and life became normal and I started treatment as much as I am still on it right now,” he says.

Brave Heroes

Over the next while, Zola put all his energy into exiting the world of prostitution, a journey he says was difficult but which he wants to encourage every prostitute to make.

At first, he took on the ideology that prostitution should be called sex work, and should be legitimised as a way to earn a living. But, this felt wrong to him: he then formed a movement for male prostitutes called Brave Heroes which is supported by Embrace Dignity, an organisation that calls a spade a spade and says that prostitution is nothing more than a form of sexual exploitation and abuse, and should be abolished.

“My life is now back on track,” he says. “How can we call something ‘work’ when there is the possibility you will be assaulted, or won’t come home, or will contract an illness, or get killed, and not even be taken seriously by the police if you report what happened to you while you were ‘at work’?”

Zola Ncapayi is a survivor of prostitution and founder of Brave Heroes – a movement for LBGTIAQ+ men and womxn who want to abolish the violent system of prostitution.

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KWANELE survivor Thulisile Khoza writes an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphoza

Open letter written by KWANELE provincial mobilisation coordinator Thulisile Khoza

Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa

Hope all is well and you have rested well after the hard work of the elections and congratulations once again for retaining the power of governance.

With all that said Mr President my name is Thulisile Portia Khoza from Johannesburg and even though you may not recall but we have met a few times whilst you were still the Chairperson of the SANAC Civil Society Forum for I was one of the the sector leaders. Mr President I write this letter with great regret and concern but don’t worry I will lay out the regrets and concerns and hopefully together can rectify them.

 Regrets: Mr President I would like to start by apologizing to you and all the members of the Civil Society Forum when you were still around. I was a sector leader of the so called “sex work sector” and did not do any justice to myself (or millions of poor south african women) because I made you believe then that decriminalizing the sex trade and making it work was the way to go I am sorry and don’t blame you for believing that because myself as a survivor of the sex trade was preaching decriminalization up to the extent that you believed it was what is best for us as women.

Mr President I regret the years those words came out of my mouth and I am truly sorry. Actually that is not the future I want for myself, my child, members of my family and even for any young black woman out there. At that time I was recruited by rich white people who have never seen a future in black people and who made me believe that selling my body, soul and morals actually exploiting me was the right thing to do. Yes I agreed because I was poor, vulnerable and uneducated and you know what they say ‘working because of hunger can be dangerous for the society’.

So yes Mr President I took the job because I was desperate and wanted out of the sex trade and needed a paying job but in the process I was destroying the lives of black women like patriarchy which was designed to control the freedoms of women especially us black women. In the sex trade we are not free as women and what kind of job does that to someone.

I speak from experience as a survivor of prostitution and believe me when I say I wouldn’t wish for even my worst enemy to go through what I went through during my time as a prostitute and I know you would wish the same if you really knew what happens. It was easy for people like you to adopt the motion of decriminalization of the sex trade because the circumstances leading to trade you have not experienced and so will not your children. I quote the words of a felow survivor when she said,” Prostitution is barbaric and circumstantial and never is or would it ever be work.”

Concerns: Mr President I was concerned when you recently announced to women in Boyseens that your government was working on decriminalizing prostitution and I asked myself some questions but one that stood out for me was the issue of crime and gender based violence. South Africa is facing crimes such as rape, killing of girls and women and more especially gender based violence which is mostly experienced in the sex trade so I ask myself what effect will decriminalizing the sex trade have when all these issues are still rising factors in our everyday lives in our communities. Instead it will give rich men more power over women’s bodies and women will be treated as commodities. A fellow survivor ones said, “prostitution is a recipe and attraction of many crimes, infact it is the gateway to gender based violence.” In short crime is still an issue in South Africa and fully decriminalizing prostitution will not change the fact the high levels of physical and sexual violence against prostituted women in this country.

With all that said Mr President I think it’s time to please listen to us as survivors of this violent sex trade and by decriminalizing prostitution you would be shattering the dreams of young black women and you would be doing no justice to this beautiful and rich country of ours. This is not what Mandela, Steve Bantu Biko, Lillian Ngoyi, Govan Mbeki,  Winnie Mandela,  Albertina Sisulu and all our Black liberation struggle heroes would have wanted for poor Black women in this country. I plead with you Mr President do not be at the forefront of a global criminal syndicate with one sole purpose of destroying poor Black women. I am tired – of all the years in prostitution I left it with nothing but scars.

In closing Mr President I am a 34 years old Black woman who grew up always dreaming of being in the defence force and/or in journalism. I do not remember wanting or dreaming of being in prostitution.

Please do feel free to engage with me or thousands of survivors like me. We are movement of survivors of prostitution called KWANELE  and we who want to abolish the system of prostitution. We are advocating for the equality model which criminalises the buyers, pimps and brothel owner but decriminalises the sellers and provides exit programs for women in prostitution.

kind regards

Thulisile Portia Khoza – KWANELE Provincial Mobilisation Coordinator (Gauteng)

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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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