Sex-workers in the Durban area – a helper speaks…

by Rod Smith

Rozanne Hay, Durban, South Africa / Guest Writer

Rozanne Hay, Durban, South Africa / Guest Writer

The afternoon Skills development is nearing an end. Zanele calls out, ‘Mama we have decided your surname is Mkhize…Sbongile Mkhize’ I smiled and turned to the counsellor who walked into the classroom.

‘Its pay day today…Wednesday 15th’ we must go out tonight. The girls from Jacobs have called, requesting a visit.

It’s 6pm. The notorious tavern opposite, is in full swing.

Our team set off towards Wentworth our first planned stop.

The roads are busy with truckers. We turn into the industrial estate and pass a lonesome Girl. Look at her face! a counsellor comments, It’s old, she’s had a hard life! We stop to talk. She’s cautious as more than 1 person per vehicle spells trouble. We reassure her and inform her of our programme. She is 14years old.

We stop alongside a group of young girls. Unexpectedly, a portly oriental man steps forward. The counsellor retreats. There is history between them.

Further long a group has gathered around cinders, while another attempts to light a flame with gathered industrial cardboard and woodshavings. We readily join them and launch into sex education and protection and our services offered. A crowd gathers as the Truckers park alongside the curb. Multipacks of condoms filter through the crowd and bulging pockets are visible. The camaraderie between punters and Girls ignites and our team moves on.

Nearing the car, a bantering couple stand in the shadows of a streetlamp. A vivacious 18month babygirl is in mother’s arms. Skill development and our services are of no interest, for her this is a career choice.

Travelling out of the industrial area, we briefly wait alongside a disused container. My car is recognised. Thoko appears and elaborates on winning her murder trial. Her intoxicated, deceased client had locked her in his car and joy rode the streets at terrifying speeds. She feared for her life and fired a warning shot from the rear seat, followed by the fatal shot. She assures us she will be returning to the programme.

Zodwa’s ‘boyfriend’calls and asked me to attend Mayville Police station now. She has been arrested for bottle stabbing another girl. This visit is scheduled for the morning and I sense the Charge Officer may not be lenient this time, its a gruesome attack.

Entering the Northern suburbs we park and set out in teams. Our first stop is with a preteen. When challenged on her reason for soliciting, she claims ‘to like nice things’. Unlike the majority, she has an intact home life. A condom pack was refused as she perceives that this is only required with the onset of menstruation.

Ahead, I recognise some of our Rehab girls. A number were out on business. The distant sight of a patrolling police van causes an instant scatter response, with due reason. The metro police are informed and updated regarding this outreach programme, yet the message fails to filter through. Having been on the receiving end of Metro Police aggression and accusations of soliciting under the disguise of an NGO, they are best avoided.

Before long the van passes and the Girls reappear. Client cars dawdle past at a death march pace seeking their prey. Girls run to cars, others hold back. This clients aggression is known to some.

Down the side alley a steady flow of cars enter the short term lodgings.

The police are seeking to arrest en mass until the visitors depart. The foreigners are in town for sport. They continue to patrol.

Sethle arrives and appears unresponsive. Relaying her traumatic ordeal, I silently wonder when these girls will realise 3 potential clients in a car are unlikely to equate to 3 customers!

Its 2am, we gather our teams, identify those for Trauma debriefing and counselling and schedule them for the morning. As we gather up Girls for Addington, another Girl known to me, approaches with a heavily pregnant teen. How can I help her, she doesn’t want this baby. Another talks about her premature baby she hasn’t collected from hospital. He’s 4months old. Visiting is too difficult as this baby too may die at year, of malnutrition or other.

En route to Addington Hospital, a glue sniffing child enters into conversation. He too, identifies with the Girls, previously rural children, failed by their communities. They all have found a sisterhood/brotherhood and a sense of belonging on the streets.

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