18 November 2019
Nompumelelo Gumede is one of a dozen sex workers who work on an empty plot in Springs because they can’t afford the fees charged by hotels. Several of them have been raped or mugged and they have named the plot “Marikana” because of the dangers they face there.
The sex workers work from an open area along Poskantoor and 7th avenue. The plot is not fenced. Thieves hide behind trees and rocks to rob the sex workers and their clients.
“What can we do? We all need to survive one way or the other,” says Gumede who is from Kwathema and has been working from Marikana for more than seven years. Just recently she was mugged by one of her clients.
“The client took my bag. When l tried to fight back, he drew a knife. l had to let him go.” She says she lost all her day’s earnings and her phone.
“No one takes us seriously because we work in an open plot,” she says. She used to work from a hotel in Springs but left when fees were increased to R200 a day.
She says at first “clients came in their numbers” to Marikana. “Now no one wants to come here.” She says she can’t remember when last she had more than one client in a day.
“No client wants to come to a place where they get robbed,” says Chipo, who did not want to give her full name. “Now we can barely survive.”
She has been robbed several times and so have her clients. “Just last week some thieves took my bag and also robbed my client.”
Chipo is from Zimbabwe. She has been a sex worker at Marikana since 2015. She used to work at a hotel in Springs but could no longer afford the fees.
“The brothel would ask for money whether we work or not. At least here at Marikana it is free.”
“l use all my money on food, paying a brothel is out of the question,” says Ayanda Zikhalala.
Zikhalala, who was orphaned at a young age, is from Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal. She came to Springs five years ago and has been living on the streets.
She says she was raped two and a half weeks ago by a policeman. She had been waiting on the spot when a police vehicle picked her up during the night. The police officer locked the doors, drove away and raped her.
“The policeman dumped me at a place far from town l had to walk back all the way.” She says when she went to report the rape at the local police station they did not take her seriously.
“They turned me away and refused to open a case,” she says.
SAPS’s Springs Corporate Communications office told GroundUp that Zikhalala should lodge a complaint so that an investigation can be launched.
Zikhalala and Chipo both have scars where they say clients stabbed them.
Like Chipo, Mazviita, who also did not want to give her full name, is from Harare. Her passport was stolen in Marikana and she does not have the money to apply for a new one in Zimbabwe. She does domestic work and some tailoring to supplement her income. She has been a sex worker since 2014. Mazviita’s children live alone in Zimbabwe.
“Many of us have been raped here at Marikana. When we tell police that we were raped doing sex work, they laugh at us,” she says.
The women save money through a stokvel into which they try to put R50 a day. But they battle.
Chipo says she can’t remember when she was last able to send money home to her children in Zimbabwe. Her sister who was also a sex worker, and who had been helping her save money for the stokvel, was recently arrested in Witbank. Now Chipo doubts that she will be able to send festive groceries and clothes to her children back home.
“I do not understand why sex workers are mistreated, we are not stealing from anyone.”
Chipo says when she started doing sex work her hope was to raise money to study teaching in Zimbabwe but now she doubts that will ever happen.
Gugu Chauke is from Maputo, Mozambique. She has been working at Marikana for more than two years. She says a client once took her to a cemetery, raped her at gunpoint, left her at the cemetery and drove away.
She used to rent a room at a hotel in Johannesburg but stopped when she could no longer she could not afford to pay.
The South African sex workers complain that immigrant sex workers charge less.
“We have a standard rate that we charge, but immigrant sex workers charge as little as R20,” says Big Mampe, who been operating as a sex worker at Marikana for over five years. The South Africans and the immigrant workers stand separately, far from each other.
Mampe says some clients take advantage of the fact that they work in an open place and refuse to pay for their services. Police harass them.
“Police often come and tell us to dress decently because we are standing in an open place, but how is that possible? Our clients must be able to identify us through the way we dress,” she says.
Sibongile Majola says she has been raped more than once. “We are tired of being mistreated and judged. We are just trying to earn a living and support our families.”