Many sex workers are battling to get vaccinated

Those who do not have identity documents cannot be registered on the government’s computer system

By Liezl Human

24 August 2021

Sex workers who do not have identity documents cannot get vaccinated. Graphic: Lisa Nelson

Some sex workers have been unable to get a Covid-19 vaccination because they do not have identity documents, raising concerns about their safety and that of their clients.

The Sisonke national movement of sex workers has been helping sex workers register for vaccination. But, says national organiser Katlego Rasebitse, they soon realised that sex workers without IDs will not be able to register.

The registration system for vaccination, known as EVDS, requires an ID number, a passport number, or an asylum seeker number.

Doris Mkwe, a 38-year old sex worker from Freedom Square, Bloemfontein, told GroundUp that she had not been able to register for vaccination because she does not have an ID number.

Mkwe said she had not had “any luck” getting her ID, despite numerous attempts. Her parents moved from Lesotho and died when she was a child. She has never had any kind of identity documentation.

“When I try to get an ID I can’t, because I don’t have anything to prove that I’ve been born in South Africa, like a birth certificate,” said Mkwe.

Now she is concerned about her clients because she doesn’t think she will get an opportunity to get vaccinated. “I’m still doing business. So I have to ask myself if I am affecting my clients.”

She said that the only thing she can do for now is to use a mask and to sanitise regularly.

Sisonke has urged the Department of Health to “reconsider the identification requirement during registration”.

Constance Mathe, coordinator of the sex worker movement Asijiki Coalition, said that they had also seen this problem, especially in Mpumalanga, where sex workers live in rural communities. She said it is difficult for sex workers in rural areas to have access to a Home Affairs office.