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Prostitutes had “invaded” Glenwood because there was a high demand for their services and residents must accept they were there to stay.
Thulisile Khoza, the provincial co-ordinator of the Sisonke Sex Workers movement, told a packed meeting at Glenwood Boys’ High School on Tuesday night that unless prostitution was decriminalised and accepted, the “problem” could not be resolved.
“We are also human and we also reside in Glenwood. We also face crime every day, just like you. Sex workers have invaded Glenwood because there is demand. We are here to stay,” she said. But the message, mainly from the men present, was clear that prostitution was “disgusting”, a criminal act and the city, which was failing to act on a list of issues, was not enforcing the by-laws.
Speaking to Khoza, Glenwood resident Lucky Mshengu, said: “Sex workers are not welcome here. The city is failing us, they must enforce the law.”
However, most women, faith organisations and NGOs called for the decriminalisation of prostitution and for research to be conducted urgently to establish who the women were and if they were from Glenwood.
They also said it needed to be established who their clients were.
The meeting was called for all affected parties to air their views on the issue which has the community outraged and worried the area will become a “red light district”.
The deputy city manager for community and emergency services, Musa Dube, acknowledged that the city had failed to deal effectively with societal issues in suburbs such as Glenwood, but a programme was under way to “aggressively” address the issues. He promised to get back to the community with answers in “the shortest time possible”.
The approach in the days before the meeting was aggressive with the Bulwer Community Safety Forum urging the community to “unite” against prostitution. Bold words in large font reading: “Do you want your children to grow up in Durban’s Red Light District?” screamed out from newspaper adverts.
The advert also read: “Officials and organisations are now weighing up the option of allowing this to take place in our area and for them to continue and move forward with their trade with rights.”
But Ben Madokwe, chairman of the Umbilo community police forum, lambasted this approach, calling it “mischievous”.
“We are not advocating this area become a red light district. We are simply calling for everyone to air their views at the same meeting. If people feel strongly then they must say so at the meeting.”
The forum was approached by the Commission for Gender Equality about the problem, and it was decided that an open meeting was needed. Madokwe said prostitution was illegal but that one could not deny it was difficult to stop as catching and arresting prostitutes was difficult.
“And even when they are arrested they are released a couple hours later after paying a R200 admission-of-guilt fine.
“Shop owners in Davenport Road are complaining that the ladies are in front of their shops, interfering with their customers. Residents are complaining they are on the streets in front of their homes and that their children are watching them, seeing what they do and what they wear.”
Madokwe added that even men innocently parking their vehicles in streets were approached by prostitutes.
The commission said both sides had legitimate complaints.
Residents had complained about the behaviour of some prostitutes, such as “flashing” and urinating in the streets, and Janine Hicks, of the Commission for Gender Equality, said this was understandable. But prostitutes had also complained of being attacked, which bordered on vigilantism, she said.