JOHANNESBURG: Jabulisile works the streets in Hillbrow, a rough area normally avoided by tourists, but just a stone’s throw from one of the World Cup stadiums that she hopes will bring in visitors looking for sex. “The World Cup will be good for business,” said the 48-year-old, who said she turned to prostitution to feed her two children. Every day, her work brings the risk of arrest – for her and her clients. She hopes the authorities will let her work in peace during the World Cup, which runs June 11 to July 11, when she dreams of earning enough to build a little nest egg that would let her leave prostitution. “I am going to quit after the World Cup.
I won’t be a sex worker until 65,” she said. But Jabulisile could be disappointed. Despite calls to decriminalise prostitution, South Africa could instead try to crack down. In September, Cape Town set up a vice squad tasked with “cleaning up” the city’s brothels and prostitutes – a move applauded by religious and family groups.
“There is quite a sense of religious and sexual moralism on the subject that does not help in term of public health and human rights,” said Marlise Richter, a researcher who collaborates with sex worker advocacy groups. “Making sex work more invisible makes it harder for sex workers to negotiate safer sex, and it will have greater influence on HIV prevalence.” South Africa already has the world’s biggest HIV caseload, with 5.7 million of its 48 million people infected. An estimated 45 percent of prostitutes have the disease, according to a 1998 study.
Branding their work as a crime also leaves prostitutes vulnerable to abuse from their clients, pimps, and the police, Richter added. “The police are harassing us, they ask for money,” Jabulisile said. “We give the money, and if we don’t, they sleep with us. You sleep with them because you are scared that they will put you in jail.” South Africa in 1997 revised its sex crimes laws, inherited from the racist and puritanical apartheid government. Parliament decriminalised homosexuality, and toughened penalties for rape and paedophilia. Early next year, lawmakers are due to consider a human trafficking law. But criminal penalties for adult prostitution remain unchanged. The Law Reform Commission, which is due to release a report on the subject in 2011, voluntarily excluded prostitution from the initial reforms. “We did not include adult prostitution (in this review) because it is quite contentious on its own and we did not want to hamper the process,” said Dellene Clark, an official at the commission.
Without new legislation in place before the World Cup, prostitutes are seeking a moratorium on enforcement during the competition. For the moment, the government isn’t taking a decision. Sibani Mngadi, spokesman at the ministry for women, said government had taken “no position at this stage”.
“There are ongoing discussions involving various groups to look at what should be the appropriate situation in South Africa, what would be in the best interests of women,” he said. The government won’t wade into the issue soon, said Chandre Gould, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, who authored a study on prostitution. “It is such a difficult matter, and the chances are that it will generate so much controversy, that I don’t think anybody in the ruling party is going to be pushing for this issue to be debated by parliament before the World Cup,” Gould said. “We know that South Africa has put a lot of energy in tidying up and making South Africa look much more pretty and tourist-friendly,” Richter said. “If you follow the signs from Cape Town, our fear is that these vice squads will be rolled out in other big areas as well.” afp