The Guard

The Truth On Board

Sex work is work: activist

By Emily Setona

QWAQWA – Rights NGO Tholwana e Molemo hosted a workshop in Maluti-a-Phofung that was aimed at empowering and assisting sex workers with healthcare and safety services, while encouraging them to unite and have one voice so that their work can be decriminalized.

According to Jabu Sithole from Tholwana e Molemo, a non-profit organisation offering healthcare and human rights services to sex workers in the Free State, their work makes a huge difference when it comes to protecting the rights and dignity of sex workers.

“Our work is to empower our clients while the Decriminalization of Sex Work Bill that was passed in 2022 is still under review. Our role is to make sure that sex workers stand united and have one voice so they can be protected by the law as they face a lot of stigma and discrimination from society,” Sithole said when speaking to The Guard.

Nthatisi Molefe, a professional nurse who works for the organisation, says their services are primarily meant for women sex workers.
Molefe indicated that the definition of sex workers is very broad. It is not limited to people who sell sex on the streets, but includes women who have no other choice but to turn to this type of work to generate an income. Their services also extend to male sex workers as well.

“Our programmes promote family planning, HIV prevention, and adherence for those who are already living with HIV. We provide support for women who work in this industry so that they feel safe because they face so many challenges when they go to public clinics for help. On the days when we are visiting an area our peer educators go out and fetch our clients so that we can offer them our services,” Molefe said.

According to the South African constitution, Section 23(1) says that: “Everyone has the right to fair labour practices.” That is why the proposed Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and related Matters) Amendment Bill of 2022 aims to repeal the Sexual Offences Act (previously Immorality Act) 1957 and Section 11 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 2007 and will decriminalize the sale and purchase of adult sexual services.

Sex workers also receive psychosocial and human rights services from Tholwana e Molemo because their clients are stigmatized and discriminated against for doing this type of work.
“As a reactor for the organisation I help the ladies with human rights issues because when they go alone to the police station they are stigmatized and abused, so my role is to help them to open cases of rape and abuse so that they do not have to do it alone,” Polo Lephuting said.

The general input from the sex workers at this workshop was that they have become immune to the stigma and insults they receive from society because they know and accept their situations and must make a living regardless of what people think about their line of work.

Tholwana e Molemo offers and rotates their clinical services to the community of QwaQwa on Tuesdays, Harrismith on Wednesday, and Warden on Thursdays. Their head offices are found in Bethlehem and Bloemfontein.

In December 2022, the Minister of Justice, Ronald Lamola, set into motion a public participation process on the laws that govern sex work in South Africa. Cabinet approved the publishing of a draft Bill – the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill, 2022 – for public comment. If it does become law; it will fully decriminalize sex work and make South Africa only the second country in the world to do so, after New Zealand.