By Jabu Kumalo

The merciless pandemic that is wreaking havoc across the globe, Covid-19, does not seem to be kind – even to those who provide the pleasures of life. 

It does not care whether one is from the highest or the lowest strata of society. It executes its mandate with cruel diligence unseen in our lifetime.

One of the groups in society that has been greatly affected by this pandemic belongs to the most despised but well-supported of professions, sex work. Those who ply their trade in this profession are called all sorts of derogatory names like abomagosha, tiekielines, nongogo and the most common being prostitutes.

The ladies of the night opened up their hearts, relating their trials and tribulations to The Telegram. They recounted how they hated the year 2020 with its cruel disease. 

One of the ladies, who was brave enough to speak, is a frail-looking 64-year-old Lilly-girl. She said although she still loved sex work, she was no longer getting customers as she used to. Another problem was that age was no longer on her side. She would come back empty-handed. Besides, the work is also dangerous and the energy she used to have to fight back has deserted her.

Lilly-girl, who brims with excitement when she talks about sex, said: “There was this day when I had to get into the train back home around 3am without a cent. I didn’t even have money for the ticket. I knew then that it was time for me to call it quits. It was a hard decision to make, but I had no choice. 

“Most of the clients have lost their jobs due to Covid-19. Others are going for younger girls. It had become painful and unbearable that I was sometimes overlooked, while not so long ago I used to be the main girl.”

She now tries to make a living by collecting bottles and cans. She confessed that it is difficult to retire completely as she loves money and sex. 

“When I do odd jobs at the local tavern, men approach me and it is sometimes difficult to say no because I want money,” she said. 

Lilly-girl added that although she had nothing to show for it, she is grateful she has survived the dangers of sex work. She does not forget the day they were attacked by a group of boys. Her friend managed to escape. She survived by grabbing the sharp-end of the knife for dear life. The knife eventually broke and they ran away. 

She said when times were tough, she even robbed her clients to survive. Some of them were dangerous. She said these days some of the girls relied on dangerous muthi to get clients. 

Lilly-girl, who is a teetotaller, said she started this way of living while she was still at school. She used to ply her trade at the mines of Carletonville, on the West Rand. She had a little break when one of her clients decided to marry her and she went to live in Botswana with him. The marriage lasted only 10 years after she had a fallout with the husband’s family. She said she had no choice but to go back home to Gauteng. 

She went back to her profession until she was forced to retire last year. 

“It is a pity that clients prefer these young girls, who do not even know how to make men happy. They don’t know the tactics of “resurrecting” the dead manhood of some men. Some men get satisfaction out of clapping you all over the body, without penetrating,” she said.

She said it turned risky when a client excited her a lot, she didn’t mind “meat-to-meat” (no condom).

Another sex worker, who has seen both the best and the worst times, is Mbithe (52). She originally hails from Zimbabwe. Mbithe entered this profession through some twist of fate. She had never ever imagined herself doing this “dirty work” for a living. Now that she is in “premature” retirement, she does not regret having entered this despised profession.

Said Mbithe: “Working as a domestic worker, I was getting little. Life was hard. I quit the job and started selling fruit and veggies. There was a girl who used to hang around my corner. We became friends after a while. I was not aware what her job was, but saw men coming to take her now and then.

“These men used to ask me whether I was only selling “this”, pointing at the fruit and veggies. I would say yes without even thinking. One day, the girl told me I can make better money if I can do what she was doing. She was selling her body. I tried it once and the money was too good. I was hooked forever.”

Mbithe said her life changed suddenly. Fortunately for her, unlike her mentor, she avoided drugs and drinking. She feels for girls who take drugs because they eventually end up being abused by Nigerian pimps. She is eternally grateful to the young girl who introduced her to this work. 

“Through discipline, I have managed to take my two kids through school. Today, they have graduated from university. One of them got married recently. I did not want them to suffer like me. Seeing that things were getting tougher because of Covid-19, I have managed to start some small business. It has led me to retire from sex work much easier.”

Mbithe said it was difficult to break away from her work completely. Some of her regulars still call her and she “helps” them. The fit and healthy Mbithe said she was flattered that at her age, most of her clients are younger men. She related how married men were having a tough time with their “unreasonable” wives. As far as she was concerned, her profession has saved many marriages.

“There are men who pay us just to talk to us. They are able to open up and talk about their painful lives at home. They are unable to share this with their rigid wives. They prefer us. There’s a married man who stays here in my neighbourhood who is my regular customer. He pays me well,” she said.

“I have an agreement with another client of mine who deposits R1,000 into my account every month, whether we have sex or not. He really treats me well. He buys me the best food. Unfortunately, I do not want a stable boyfriend, because with time, they become abusive and want to own you.”

She said some of the unfortunate things is that their clients and the general community treat them like trash. Like her peers, she wishes that this work can be decriminalised.

One incident that nearly put her life in danger was when a men from the community attacked her at home. They kicked the doors and demanded she come out, claiming she is “dirtying” the neighbourhood with her work.

“I undressed my gown and was left only with a G-string. I then opened the door for them to come in. They were afraid to come in. My intention was to lock the door once they were inside and throw the keys out of the window. Then I was going to call the cops and scream rape. Fortunately for them, they smelled the danger and left me alone,” Mbithe said. 

She appealed to society and the police to understand that this is their only way of avoiding poverty. One of the things that has bothered her over the years is stigmatisation.

As she operated around drinking holes, their closure due to Covid-19 has killed her roaring sex work business. 

She is unashamed to be upfront with men who approach her about a permanent relationship that she is a sex worker.

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