‘We do sex work to support our families!’

Deputy Minister of Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu speaking at the ICC in Quigney, East London, discussing sex work. PICTURE: ABONGILE GINYA.

People sell sex in a variety of ways with the distinction that some stand on the streets and draw condemnation. This arose when sex workers gathered at the ICC in Quigney, East London, and expressed their grievances to the Deputy Minister of Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu.

The sex workers shared their heart-breaking stories of abuse by law enforcement officers and their clients during the Deputy Minister’s discussion.

Others spoke about how their clothes are sometimes withheld and they go home naked, revealing how they are exploited by not being paid for their services. Others would be driven around from dusk till dawn while being loaded into the back of a police vehicle, even though they had committed no crimes.

A West Bank woman who does sex work but does not stand on the street said that she had worked in the sex industry for a long time. She said that she has a house, educated her children, and expressed her happiness if this industry were given some thought and given authorisation to operate legally.

She said that once sex work is legalised, people would stop criticising them. She gave the example of women who are dating or married who use their bodies, with the difference being that they do not stand on the street.

The sex workers said that because there are few employment opportunities in the Eastern Cape, they are compelled to stand in these corners in order to support their families.

They disclosed that they work with East London university students in these street corners who are supporting their struggling families they left behind.

For their own protection, the sex workers’ identities are kept private.

A gay man who works as a sex worker admitted that one of the difficulties, he faces is criticism from sex workers who are women who think they are stealing their clients.

He said that these women are trying to make ends meet, just like them (gay sex workers), and do not exchange sexual services willingly.

Another sex worker described her ordeal with two policemen who were on duty one night as she shared in front of the Deputy Minister. They forced her to strip off her clothes and repeatedly turn around since they claimed her buttocks were large; she was not paid.

“They are harassing us, they can be cheap at times, and won’t pay you. I lost business all night due to them, which cost me time.

“They simply forced me to strut down the street and then abandoned me in the middle of nowhere at night; they did not rape me. We appeal for consideration because we also use this money to support our families; doing so is effort and not a waste of time,” the sex worker remarked.

The main problem, according to a sex worker working in Willow Park, East London, is having their money stolen by thieves when they get out of the car.

“We’re pleading for assistance; perhaps the police’s presence in Willow Park will help. A thief immediately steals your money after you finish working. They take the money you just received,” the sex worker said.

Insisting that there is always competition in business, Bogopane-Zulu urged the sex industry to work together and cooperatively. There is still more work to be done, she noted, despite efforts to decriminalize sex work.

Bogopane-Zulu criticised sex workers for leaving children alone, pointing out that the Department had partial care facilities. This is in response to learning that children are out walking at night in search of their mothers.

She noted that it is wrong for sex workers to be raped, and the cases brought by sex workers should receive additional attention.

The complaints of these sex workers have been heard, according to Buffalo City Municipality’s (BCM) Chief Director of the Department of Social Development, Zoliswa Ganca, and will be taken into consideration.

Even if sex work is decriminalised, according to Phindile Ngwazi of SWEAT, an association for sex workers in BCM, there is still much work to be done because they are still experiencing challenges.

BCM Pastor Bulelani Palezweni stated that they will always support sex workers because they are also human beings created by God. He claims that there are men who pretend to despise sex workers but pay for their services at night.

There are pregnant sex workers among the sex workers.