SEX workers hoping to cash in on the World Cup are being swept into slums by South African police – to the alarm of those trying to help them.
Aid workers have been taken aback by how many women expect ‘busloads of tourists’ to arrive at the hotels they increasingly use as brothels in major World Cup city Johannesburg.
But they are determined to get more to follow the example of an ex-prostitute now receiving a different kind of client, after managing to retrain as a beautician.
Promises of earning up to £300 per day have been luring many women – often desperate immigrants - into prostitution.
This is despite warnings they face harassment by police and violence by clients and the owners of supposed bars and hotels used effectively as brothels.
Football fans coming to South Africa and sleeping with prostitutes could also be exposing themselves to HIV, in a country with one of the world’s highest Aids rates.
Current president Jacob Zuma has tried to distance his government from the attitude of predecessor Thabo Mbeki, who attracted global scorn for doubting a link between HIV and Aids and blocking drugs treatments.
Yet there are still an estimated 5.7million people in South Africa living with HIV, or more than 10 per cent of all South Africans – the fifth highest rate in the world.
Aids is thought to have killed 756,000 people in South Africa in 2008 – more than in any other country.
With risks still so high, health workers were concerned last week to make their usual visits to test sex workers’ HIV status, offer help and hand out condoms – only to find doors barred and buildings empty.
Ellen Crabtree, a British VSO volunteer in Johannesburg’s deprived inner-city Hillbrow district, said: ‘All the buildings were padlocked from the outside – it was clear police have been moving women on.
‘If we don’t know where they are, we can’t help them – and if they’re now working alone on the streets, or living in squats, they’ll be much more at risk.
‘If we’re not addressing HIV in the sex worker community, we’re not addressing the pandemic.’
Her colleague, clinical nurse Nonklankla Motlokoa, said: ‘The perception of the girls is that they will get rich.
‘They think there will be a busload of tourists dropped at their hotel.
‘So many are saying to me, after 2010 I will be rich and then I will leave sex work.’
Studies suggest only five out of 100 women working in Johannesburg brothels will be successful in leaving the sex industry at some point – despite the dangers.
Nonklankla warned: ‘Often girls with no money are raped by the police - all they have to give is their bodies.
‘Our girls on the streets are also very vulnerable to cuts, bruises and attacks from their clients.
‘Some men even pretend to be clients and then attack or kill sex workers. They will go just to be violent.’
Many foreign prostitutes have no legal papers and are too scared to come to established clinics or even leave their brothels, she added – making their mobile clinics all the more important, so long as they can find people to assist.
POLICE have been threatening for months to launch a World Cup clean-up programme aimed at Johannesburg’s prostitutes, according to a woman who refuses to leave the sex trade.
Mary, 32, had wanted to work as a beautician but has been working as a prostitute to pay healthcare bills for two blind sisters.
She said: Cops have been harassing girls, promising: “We will arrest you for 2010.”’
But she insisted: ‘Sex work has been around for centuries.
‘We are not stealing from anyone. We know there is a lot of money there.
‘There is no way to survive in Johannesburg with no work, no education.’
There is hope of a way out for some, though, if willing and able to take it.
Zimbabwean mother-of-three Pauline, 35, gained confidence as one of the Hillbrow project’s ‘peer educators’ – accepting a 1,000 Rand monthly stipend instead of up to 3,000 Rand per day as a prostitute.
Pauline, previously a prostitute for two years, said: “Becoming a peer educator allowed me to train as a beauty therapist this year and I have a dream that one day I will be able to be my own businesswoman with my own spa.
‘People think sex workers can’t do anything, they can’t think, they have no education, she can’t think.
‘I want to show that as sex workers we are talented in our minds.
‘I used to earn 5,000 to 6,000 Rand (£450 to £540) a week and now I earn 500 to 600 (£45 to £54) a day.
‘But now I meet different people, I am not in danger. I have focus and I have a job and pride.
‘I am done with my former work.’