MJM Nqobile NGO

By Jabu Khumalo

Meet the lady who is treated with reverence in her community of Vaal, Jaws “Mother” Makelefane. In the circles of sex workers Mother is regarded as their Messiah. Everywhere she turns, there are constant screams of “Mother”.   

The most-loved lady fondly known as she runs a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) called Nqobile Women’s Development Project, based in Residensia, in the Vaal. She got into the world of the ladies of the night through a project to assist them about safe sex and education. She came to their rescue during their darkest hour. 

Mother admits that before she embarked on the programme, she too had a low opinion of these ladies and regarded them as just “loose, good-for-nothing” women. But her attitude toward them completely changed as she got close and personal with them. This happened after her research and long conversations with them. Part of her organisation’s work, among others, has to do with HIV/Aids projects. 

She told The Telegram: “I had a project to work with sex workers. But as I was not clued up with their work, I decided to hire them to be part of us. At first, they did not trust me at all. They thought I was going to use them as the Nigerian pimps do. With time, they realised my honest intentions. They embraced me and our project. We took them to HIV prevention workshops so that they can know about their statuses and learn more. 

“Others were roped in as education co-ordinators among their peers. We also teach them about their rights. The programme has become so huge that we have become the go-to organisation when the government needs help in this field.”

Mother’s intervention through her organisation Nqobile, has seen less police harassment, less criminal activities by their clients, less stealing of their clients’ money and belongings and a bit of a secure working environment.

“We have also taught them that as much as they have rights, human rights are for everybody, including their clients,” said Mother. 

“Cops used to harass them by taking their money. They also slept with them by force. Cops harassed their clients as well. I remember one incident when I arrived just after the police had arrested them. The client was angry that he had paid but had not ejaculated because he was forcefully removed by police. 

“When they are arrested, they call us to intervene. Police have become more afraid of our organisation because we do not waste time taking steps against them. We have been to Parliament with the sex workers to present their case and motivate for the decriminalisation of their work.”

According to Mother, her ladies are grateful to have a guaranteed cheque every month.

“Unfortunately, some of them would sneak out for a “snack” now and then to make extra cash. This sometimes affects their jobs. Seemingly, sex work is an addiction. There are those who find it difficult to hold on to a nine-to-five job. 

“They have become so used to sex and a quick buck. The salary they get has helped them to be able to pay for their kids schooling, funeral policies and a decent meal at home,” she said.

Some of the ladies said they have been to places they had never ever in their wildest dreams imagined, like Parliament, different provinces and trips overseas through working with Mother. They said they would never have known these places if it was not for her.

Mother hopes government would come to its senses one day and decriminalise sex work. This would help in many ways like them contributing to tax, safety from criminal syndicates and being able to live and work in peace.

“After our initial contact with the sex workers, we called monthly meetings with cops, communities and other relevant people to talk and inform them about the lives of sex workers. In a way, that helped reduce the stigmatisation and resentments,” she said. 

“Most of these women operate under pseudonyms, so when they die it is painful because their families are not traceable, especially those who live outside the area or the province. Some of them come from very far.” 

During these hard Covid-19 times, these women engage in fights over “stoeps” (territories). 

“It is fulfilling for me to have done my bit in changing the lives of so many sex workers. In helping them, I have helped their families and society at large. And for that, I am grateful. I wish I could do more,” she said. 

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