CLAD casually in jeans and a T-shirt and clutching on to their handbags, one would never assume the greasy-haired women standing on a street side in Chatsworth were sex workers.
However, seconds after our car pulls over, a curly-haired woman using flip-flops approaches the passenger door in the hope of getting in.
After a short conversation, she and her friend, who are both under the age of 25, said they were undecided on whether sex work should be legalised.
Despite making about R400 a day from clients – mainly middle-aged rich Indian businessmen in BMWs and MercedesBenzes – they did not plan on remaining in the industry all their lives.
This was merely a means to an end.
The first sex worker, who approached our car, *Preshnie, entered the sex industry three years ago.
“I was begging with my baby when men would come up to me for sex. It took me by surprise at first, but because social workers have been hassling me about begging with my child, I knew I had to find another means of making money. So once I put him in school, I started selling my body for money.”
She admitted she was addicted to the drug “sugars” and had worked to feed her addiction and help her child through school.
Her services, said Preshni, ranged from R100 to R200 and she made about R400 a day. The peak times are from 7am to noon and from 4pm until the evening.
“We normally go to a nearby hotel or the stadium, but sometimes it’s in the back seat of the car in an empty parking lot.”
Her biggest fear is being killed.
“There’s no one to protect us. We don’t carry a cellphone in case it is stolen. So there is no way to call if we are in danger. My friend and I look out for each other. If I could get a proper job, I would leave this tomorrow.”
Her friend, *Anita, is a mother of two. She is also a sugars addict and says her husband, from whom she is separated, forced her into the industry.
Anita said she always carried condoms, despite her fear that the police would use it to link her to prostitution.
She said many clients preferred not to use condoms but she offered them the following advice.
“I tell them, they don’t know a person. If a person is sick, they are not going to tell them. You can look nice on the outside, but you don’t know what’s going on in the inside.”
Anita said she hated her current line of work.
In Phoenix, *Tessa has been a sex worker for 18 years and has a “set clientele”.
She operates from a local tavern and charges R200 for every half hour and earns between R1 200 and R4 000 a day.
Tessa, 42, has been sleeping on the streets for three years since her family disowned her for marrying a drug dealer. She is no longer with him.
Reflecting on how she started out in the industry, she said: “I went to a tavern and saw a few girls standing outside, waiting for men, and I joined them. My first client smiled and said he was pleased with my services and paid me R500. I realised I could make good money from this and continued.”
To safeguard herself, she carries pepper spray and a knife in case anyone becomes problematic or refuses to pay.
She admitted to breaking the windows of a customer’s car after he was unable to pay her. Tessa now demands an upfront payment.
Speaking about a recent dangerous encounter, Tessa said a man, who claimed he hated prostitutes, had choked her.
“He asked for a kiss and I told him I don’t do kisses. He then asked for a peck on the cheek. As I kissed him, he grabbed my neck and squeezed, then pulled out a knife. I managed to punch him in the face to get free.”
Tessa said men preferred women who were clean, smelled good and were not drug addicts.
She agreed with legalising sex work, saying, “at least we don’t have to hide in the corners or be afraid that we will be harassed by the police”.
* Their real names have been withheld to protect their identities.