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.
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