Sizwe Mlambo,* 28, is originally from Kagiso outside of Johannesburg. She works as a commercial sex worker and as a peer health educator with sex worker organisations, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy taskforce (SWEAT) and the Sisonke Sex Workers Movement.
She and colleagues recently conducted training for sex workers in the mining town of Kuruman, Northern Cape.
“I must admit the business is doing well in Kuruman because of the mines surrounding the town,” says Mlambo, who added that booming business means stiff competition for clients among workers, who still risk abuse by both clients and police.
Teens’ risky business[quote float=”left”]”Some dropout from schools and others are used by (pimps) in the market (who) end up not paying them, but only giving them beers and bread”
Meanwhile, many sex workers are not even old enough to vote, she says.
“Here in Kuruman, teenagers are the most active group in the field of sex work,” Mlambo told OurHealth. “Some dropout from schools and others are used by (pimps) in the market (who) end up not paying (the girls), but only giving them beers and bread.”
Many also do not know where to turn for help in the case of rape, she adds.
“Some of them are not even aware of their rights,” Mlambo said. “They don’t know anything about HIV prevention programmes or what to do if they have been raped.”
Local chairperson of the South Africa Police Services’ (SAPS) Women’s Network, Ouma Manhe, said that the SAPS was aware of a shack in an area called “Promise Land” in which pimps sold school-aged teenage girls for sex.
“We, as the organisation and women police, are not impressed by the way this is happening,” Manhe said. “Parents should report their missing children as early as possible for us to start searching and helping.”
Mlambo asked that sex workers receive representation on the district AIDS council to help address some of these issues.
Bad attitudes linger among service providers
“As peer educators, our role is to educate about human rights, and advantages and disadvantages of being in the (sex work) industry itself but we are not welcomed,” said Mlambo, who added that clients also needed to be educated about HIV prevention, human rights and statutory rape laws criminalising sex with a minor. “The police think we are here to promote sex work but we are not.”
Sex workers also continue to allege poor treatment by health workers, including a lack of access to emergency contraception, also known as “the morning after pill,” to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Available at clinics, this pill must be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex and within five days to prevent pregnancy.
Tshwaragano Hospital representatives reiterated that all patients should be treated equally and urged any patients who are unhappy with service at the hospital to report it via the facility’s suggestion boxes.
*Not her real name