Legalizing Prostitution in South AfricaBy Thandi Mkhatshwa

Legalizing Prostitution in South Africa

By Thandi Mkhatshwa

Published on Mon, Jun 08 2009 by Thandi Mkhatshwa
South Africa will be the first African country to host the FIFA Soccer World Cup next year, and everyone is looking forward to the games. Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about 2010. Much discussion has been made about the strength of South Africa’s infrastructure to host a successful World Cup. South Africa is attempting to go out of its way to provide the best World Cup possible…by legalizing prostitution. This idea has caught my attention and has me thinking really hard.

It was South African police commissioner Jackie Selebi who first proposed the idea, arguing that if prostitution is legalized, it would free up police to deal with more pressing security issues. The proposal was presented again at an Arts and Culture Department meeting where plans for social cohesion for 2010 were discussed, this time from ANC MP George Lekgetho. “It is one of the things that would make it [the tournament] a success because we hear of many rapes, because people don’t have access to them [women],” Lekgetho stated during a meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Arts and Culture in Parliament.

Lekgetho’s idea is supported by many of the same arguments that have been thrown around before.� Those in favor cite that legalized prostitution will be easy to license, regulate, and tax.� Some say it would also provide money for the country.� Yet there would be a need to establish some guidelines and safety precautions for the workers and their patrons. “If sex working is legalized people would not do things in the dark. That would bring us tax and would improve the lives of those who are not working,” Lekgetho added.

Already the provincial government of Mpumalanga has called on escort agencies to register their services for the soccer world cup games.

Just recently, the new Gauteng premier Nomvula Makonyane also called for the legalization of prostitution, arguing that it is the world’s oldest profession and that it should be recognized, managed and protected to stop sex workers from being exploited.

Sex workers have always been trying to get the government to recognize their services as a legitimate business, but with no success. But that has never stopped them from operating illegally the streets at night. I know some women from my community who sell their bodies for a living at the nearest big towns, such as Hoedspruit. They’ve turned the public toilets into their little hostels. During the day they sleep like bats and at night they spread out on the streets and local bars. The police used to raid the place but eventually got tired. The women would get arrested but the following day they were out of jail, and back to turning tricks for money again.
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Now these sex workers could soon taste the freedom of roaming around the streets freely at night selling their stuff without the fear of ever getting arrested again by the police, as their service could be treated as a regular job; if not just for the World Cup only, but permanently.

I am not as excited about the idea of legalizing prostitution like Lekgetho and others.� I see this proposal as a threat to future of this country. I worry that people in favor are only focusing on the money that the government will be getting…not the ugly picture that it would bring.

South Africa already has the highest unemployment rate and current inflation crisis isn’t helping the situation. I think the moment the South African government formalizes prostitution, they will be creating a market for it and many young girls, who aren’t finding jobs anywhere, will turn to prostitution out of desperation for an income. This will also increase their chances of falling pregnant, and the risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS.

Legal prostitution, by its very nature, will increase the number of sexual partners of the prostitutes, and also their clients. Prostitutes and their clients are therefore both high-risk populations for HIV/AIDS.

Though I am not a big soccer fan myself, I’m also looking forward seeing some of the games, but I am not at all looking forward to the possibility of prostitution getting legalized. The South African government should rather start by finding more ways to create more legitimate jobs for the soccer World Cup and thereafter so people don’t have to turn to prostitution.



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