Sex work is illegal in South Africa. Sex work is criminalised in the Criminal Code, and municipal by-laws also contain provisions that prohibit sex work such as “importuning any person for the purpose of prostitution” and “soliciting”. Sex workers have very little legal protection.
Regional updates: Africa
Recently, the Tanzanian government arrested 500 suspected sex workers alongside an estimated 300 alleged clients in a police sweep that took place in March 2017. In the months of March and June 2016, sex worker communities experienced major arrests and harassment. 1,168 sex workers in various hotspots in Tanzania were imprisoned by the state.
Sex workers in Kenya’s coastal town of Mombasa have urged the police to conduct a thorough investigation into the murder of one of their colleagues in a hotel last month. During a peaceful demonstration in protest to the growing number of killings of sex workers in the area, the sex workers urged the police to act swiftly.
Penzi, who is a paralegal with “Sisters of Majengo,” a community-based organisation that promotes health and human rights for female sex workers through advocacy, trainings on sexual reproductive health and rights, economic empowerment and community outreach in Majengo, lives in an urban settlement in Kenya and has been in the business for 24 years as an indoor sex worker.
On 28 December 2016, 39 sex workers were arrested under the Rogue and Vagabond offence in the Malawian criminal code. This offence is often used to target street-based sex workers, drug users, vendors, and homeless people.
Section 184(1) (c) of the Penal Code provides that, “every person found in or upon or near any premises of any road or highway or any place adjacent thereto or in any public place at such time and under such circumstances as to lead to the conclusion that such person is there for an illegal or disorderly purpose, is deemed a rogue and vagabond.”
On the 18 November SWEAT and Sisonke with the Gauteng Sex Worker Sector and the Gauteng Provincial Legislature held the Sex Worker's Sector Parliament. Four hundred and fifty sex workers participated in the Sex Workers’ Parliament in the province of Gauteng in northern South Africa.
On 24 February 2016, 19 women in the Dedza District of Malawi were arrested and fined. They were charged with living off the avails of prostitution. On 8 September 2016, the Zomba High Court ruled that the Dedza Magistrate had no jurisdiction to hear the case and that the arrest of the women was unconstitutional. According to the court, the law was meant to protect sex workers against exploitation. However, the law was being used to arrest, detain, and fine sex workers and this violated their human rights.
In Uganda, commercial sex work is illegal and perceived as immoral and socially unacceptable. As a stigmatised and often criminalised group, sex workers are frequently the victims of human rights abuses, including sexual violence. Historically, the majority of sex workers have lacked adequate access to information about their rights, safe sex, health services, and equality before the law. In turn, this has significant implications for basic safety, the spread of HIV/AIDs, and unwanted pregnancies.
“It’s my first time in the academy and it has really opened my eyes as far as sex worker advocacy and movement is concerned,” said Precious Zuzu.
Zuzu, who is from Swaziland’s Family Life Association, was among 18 participants from Swaziland, Cameroon and Kenya who were selected to attend the 10th Sex Worker Africa Academy (SWAA).
This year before the 13th AWID International Forum, AWID hosted the Black Feminism Forum (BFF) from the 5-6 of September. During the BFF, there was a sex worker-led session called “Sex Work and Feminism: what does it mean to be an African sex worker feminist?” organised by Ntokozo Yingwana and Onkokame Mosweu from the African Sex Workers’ Alliance, Amaka Enemo from the Nigeria Sex Workers’ Association, and Sanyu Batte from Lady Mermaid’s Bureau.