Local NGO aims to help workers
A local NGO counted 2013 prostitutes in Selebi-Phikwe between October 2010 and September 2011, working the 64 locations identified as ‘hot spots’ in the mining town. 23-year-old Naledi is one of them.
Her story is a typical tale of economic necessity where the combination of no academic qualification, no money and no job, combined with the sole responsibility of feeding her two-year-old son, has tempted her into joining the oldest profession.
Dropping out from school in 2009, her only employment to date has been work allocated as part of the government funded Ipelegeng scheme. But that has never been enough to sustain her needs, and after what she terms some ‘deep thinking,’ she was persuaded with a little help from former school mates in the same position, to take to the streets.
By her own admission she has no regrets. “Business is not that bad, especially at month end, and most of my clients have not been violent, although they often insist on not using condoms. We call that ‘free flow’ and it is when I can charge P60, which is double the normal rate.”
She reckons that she needs around P400 a month to survive, a target she has little trouble reaching with her regular customers of mine workers and truck drivers.
Asked if she was not afraid of HIV/AIDS, Naledi reveals that she is already infected. “I think the father of my child must have given me the virus. Right now I take ARV’s and never miss them. When I try to inform my clients of my status, they don’t believe me and say that I look too fit to have the virus,’’ Naledi says with a faint smile.
She maintains that if she could find a proper job she would leave the trade because it is risky, especially at the clubs where some men can get aggressive and refuse to pay. She can expect no protection from the police, but neither do they harass the girls as they go about their business.
What help Naledi gets comes from a local NGO, Silence Kills. Registered in 2006 and funded by USAID, their objective is to provide integrated HIV/AIDS services at community level, and to cultivate a strong partnership with key partners.
According to Senior Programme Officer Boitumelo Kopano their goal is to improve the quality of life of people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS through prevention and care support in an area that has one of the highest infection rates in the country.
The project offers counselling and assists sex-workers in the practice of safe sex, and ultimately hopes to help them find ways to leave the profession and find sustainable employment.
“We treat them as the most at risk population and we have an outreach programme where we sensitize them about HIV/AIDS issues and distribute free condoms,” Kopano explains.
The organisation does not support the legalization of prostitution. “The girls are doing this because of poverty, and prostitution degrades the dignity of women,’’ she argues.
It is an argument that Naledi acknowledges with a shrug of her shoulders as she prepares for the business for the night.