South Africa


‘Voices of the people’ called for in sex work research

Sex workers demonstrate outside the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town during the court appearance of internationally celebrated artist Zwelethu Mthethwa on Monday, 10 November 2014. Mthethwa was charged with the murder of 23-year-old sex worker Nokuphila Kumalo. Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/SAPA

Once again, the decriminalisation of sex work was on the agenda for the Multi-party Women's Caucus in Parliament this week.

It is clear that South African Civil Society wants sex work to be decriminalised. 59.6% of the submissions called for the full decriminalisation of sex work, which is a clear indication that decriminalisation is the only way to go.”

This was the comment from Lesego Tlhale, who was attending the Deliberations on the Summit with Stakeholders on the Sexual Offences Act, 1957 that currently forbids prostitution, brothel-keeping and procuring, and other activities related to prostitution.

The discussion, chaired by Rosalia Morutoa at the Old Assembly in Parliament was attended by Sweat (Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce) and Stop (Stop Trafficking of People) and a few members of the Multi-party Women’s Caucus.

This deliberation comes after a summit was held on 5 March this year to elicit public participation on whether or not to decriminalise sex work. The draft report on the summit found that 59.6% of the submissions were in support of the full decriminalisation of sex work, while only 22% were in favour of keeping sex work criminalised.

The purpose of this week’s meeting was for women’s caucus members to finalise decisions and make proposed recommendations. However, this did not happen as members felt that more needed to be done. Cynthia Majeke, a member of the UDM (United Democratic Movement) said that more voices need to be heard before decisions can be made.

We don’t want a situation where you call a meeting in a room like this and say you have reached stakeholders. We want a situation where you go to even the rural areas and we hear the voices of people before we can take any decision.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Nthabiseng Khunou of the ANC (African National Congress).

If we really want to say this is a clear representation of our country and the demographics of the country are taken seriously we need to make it a point that we go to different provinces, get as many submissions as possible.”

Speaking on the abuse that sex workers experience at the hands of police, and the comments of stakeholders at the summit on the role played by police in the policing of sex work, ANC MP Machwene Semenya, said that the ministry should be more involved. “We want the Minister of Police to take up the issues.”

A call has been put out that more people should be included in the research. Members of Parliament in attendance and the organisations present agreed that all South Africans need to be represented.

Tlhale of Sweat said: “We are happy with the outcome of the report and agree with the caucus, to say they want further deliberation especially from the Department of Justice.”

No follow-up dates were provided at the meeting. DM


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