Letters to the editor: December 6 2013

Assaults on sex workers demean society

And so the 16 Days of Violence Against Women bangs round again … oops! Forgive the Freudian slip, but here in Glenwood this seems to be more the case. Particularly if you're a prostitute on the notorious Che Guevara/Rick Turner strip in Glenwood, Durban's unofficial red light district.

But then, are sex workers really women? Or even really human? It would seem not, in Glenwood.

Four days into this celebration of meaningless mouthing and teeth gnashing, the good citizens of Glenwood launched another attack on our ladies of the night, so-called activism with the aim of "cleaning up crime and grime from our streets" – an anti-prostitute protest.

I wondered precisely which part of the phrase it was that I found so incredibly offensive. Was it the "cleaning up" part, which verbally lumps these women into the same inanimate category as discarded shoes, cardboard boxes, broken bottles, empty cans and potato peelings, to be tossed on society's rubbish dump with vagrants, street kids and Jo'burg's street traders.

"Grime" similarly conjures up images of rotting buildings, pollution-encrusted factories, or the scum around a dirty sink – a far cry from the living, breathing, feeling beings who are frequently forced through poverty, crime or other social difficulties to walk the streets.

Which of course brings me to the "crime" part of this obnoxiously sanctimonious little phrase. Exactly whose crime are the gung-ho Glenwood guardians of our morality referring to?

Could it be the criminal cops who cruise our streets at night, in fast cars, picking up prostitutes for a little slap without the tickle, free "num-nums" before dumping them back at their street corners with a few dollars more bulging from their uniform pockets?

Corruption is, last I heard, still a legislated criminal offence in South Africa. And is it not a crime for members of the community to shoot unarmed women with paint balls and rubber bullets? Or to spray them with water laced with pepper spray or acid?

I also would have thought coercing young women into drug addiction was a crime. Or forcing them to sell drugs. Or themselves. Or starving them and preventing them from getting medical attention. Or withholding their earnings, or passports, or even children sometimes, to ensure their absolute compliance. Or throwing them out of windows so they break their backs, or gang-raping, hanging or stabbing them. Or forcing them to abort pregnancy after pregnancy. I thought human trafficking was a crime too.  

And in case you're interested, each scenario described refers to actual crimes against real women, the sex workers of Glenwood. Not committed once or twice, but over and over and over.

For some, the gaping maw of their families' starvation keeps these women on the streets. For others, the excruciating agony of whoonga addiction, guaranteed even if they're lucky enough to gain admission into the state's woefully inadequate rehab centres, ensures their total submission to their pimps.

Or the so-called exit strategies, raising their hopes of reintegration into society with a little light training, only to be dashed by the soaring unemployment rate, and without vital long-term economic support, ensuring their return to the oldest profession in the world – the only one that assures them some sort of income no matter how perilous.

Compared with public disturbance, littering, indecent exposure and urinating in public, I would have thought these were the real crimes. Crimes that should have got the community standing shoulder to shoulder, lining the streets in outrage and demanding social justice, human rights and an end to corrupt policing.    

But of course, it's much easier to take on the soft targets.

Some might politely call this a misguided approach. Some would say it's the coward's way. Others may even say it's a way of appearing effective while ignoring the massive elephant looming over the room.

But hell, sex workers aren't really human are they? So let's bang a few more "hos" during the remaining 16 days while denouncing violence against women – it's all good so long as we hold hands on Sundays.

I wonder though, what will it take to "clean the crime and grime" from our hands … or what's left of our souls. To quote Nigerian author and Booker Prize-winner Ben Okri: "In the old days, people used to see angels; now they don't even see their fellow human beings." – Vanessa Burger, Umbilo Action Group, Durban

The Mail & Guardian has put Thuli Madonsela in danger

Now that the shock of the leaked Nkandla report's incredible revelations has been diluted among a selection of other controversies, we will have time to consider the implications of the Mail & Guardian's actions in publishing the key aspects of the draft version.

I think the M&G has committed a grave error, whether legally defensible or not. At best, it has stumbled over journalistic ambition and attempted to get the scoop for commercial reasons. At worst, it has been hoisted by its own petard.

There can be no doubt that the premature publication of the report in the M&G will ultimately undermine the one rare example of due process in the government. Watching Thuli Madonsela tiptoeing on eggs while trying to navigate defensibly through uncharted territory has been awesome. Her ability to demonstrate transparent, responsive and sensible governance, with painstaking attention to detail, is one faintly flickering glow of hope in the storm.

We are all waiting for the assault on her castle (or, quite conceivably, her person – many people have died here for a lot less). What the M&G has done, in its expedience, has enormously increased her vulnerability and damaged her prospects of survival. The M&G has petulantly thrown a spanner in the works, diverted attention away from the content of the issues at stake and given the presidency a workable means of defence.

I contend that the M&G has probably opened the way for legal review of the processes and thereby provided a path out of the morass for the very people the newspaper has apparently tried to expose.

So stupid and expedient is this action that it leaves me wondering whether the M&G's eagerness was not actually used against the paper and the protector – a brilliant plan that may have worked very well.

Why did these defenders of democracy, the M&G's editors, not let it play out and wait until the process under way matured to the point where we would not need to consider how we got there, as opposed to figuring out how to deal with the implications of the revelations? – Neville Sweijd

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