Mavericks dancers: We’re free to come and go
The spotlight has fallen on the behind-the-scenes activities of Mavericks strip club, with Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai asking the Human Rights Commission to investigate the working conditions of exotic dancers at the club, saying they could constitute human trafficking.
This was after corporate permits for 200 foreign dancers were revoked by the Department of Home Affairs. Mavericks owner Shane Harrison invited the Cape Times to visit the dancers’ residential premises, where ZARA NICHOLSON spoke to three women.
Escorted by a manager and Harrison, the Cape Times was allowed to interview three dancers, selected by Harrison.
The interview took place at the top level of the multi-storey accommodation, a spacious lounge and kitchen area with an outdoor rooftop pool.
Two hours before the club opens, Mia from Ukraine, Marilyn from Pretoria and Dora, a Hungarian, arrive.
The women have asked that their surnames be withheld.
At the accommodation, at least six floors houses dozens of women from all over the world.
Most women live at the accommodation when they start out at the club and later move to their own places.
They pay the club a monthly levy of R2 850 to dance at the venue and this also covers their accommodation, if they choose to stay there.
On each floor there are a number of rooms, a kitchen, a lounge and laundry room.
Three women share a spacious room which is divided by a screen-type wall to separate each one’s bedroom.
Harrison says the dancers are free to do as they please but there is one primary rule – no male guests are allowed.
Before I interview the dancers, Harrison says: “We are going to play open books with everyone whether it is the press or the Human Rights Commission. Interview the dancers to see if I bought them and how they got here.
“These dancers are not forced to be here. They dance because they like to and they want to make money. They are self-employed contractors who make their own money.”
He said Mavericks had more than 10 000 people visiting the club every month.
Mia from Ukraine has been in SA for six years. She came over with her sister who is also a dancer at Mavericks.
The siblings are both trained dancers and chose their careers because they love dancing and wanted to travel.
Mia is married to a South African man and has a four-year-old son.
“I danced at other clubs in other countries for a long time. My friend told me about a new club opening in South Africa and I came on my own. I did not come with an agency. I applied for a work permit, bought a ticket and I came,” she said.
After one year, Mia applied for residency.
Mia does not live in the club’s accommodation and owns a house with her husband.
Asked about the allegations of human trafficking, she said: “They give us work and we are free to come and go. Wherever I travelled I always had my passport and visa. If I go to a country, I do things right because if anything happens to me, I wanted to be protected by that country’s law and police.”
The second dancer is Marilyn, a divorcee and single mother of two mentally and physically disabled boys.
Marilyn grew up in Pretoria and has been in Cape Town for more than a year.
She had a string of jobs as a human resources manager, a book-keeper and a restaurant manager.
Her sons’ disabilities and the growing medical bills put a strain on her marriage and she was left to look after her children alone.
“The government grant for disabled children was R1 500, which would only cover their nappies. I struggled to get them into a school, people were just very insensitive. I couldn’t find another job anywhere. It was sink or swim. I decided to start dancing because I know girls make good money,” she said.
It was a “girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do” moment for Marilyn.
“I told myself: ‘Just close your eyes and strip’. I’ve always been an extrovert, I like the spotlight and it’s a nice environment. People have this preconceived idea that it’s sleazy but it’s actually a very nice environment,” Marilyn said.
As a single mother she can’t see herself earning better money as she can now afford three live-in nannies for her children who need constant assistance.
“I would not be able to afford the help I need for my kids in any other way. I am giving them a good life, we have a beautiful house with a garden and a pool,” she said.
Marilyn plans to stay in this job to sustain her and her children’s life. She is doing part-time studies for a law degree through Unisa and hopes go into commercial law once she has completed her degree.
The final interviewee is Dora, 24, from Hungary.
“I started working when I was 17, as a waitress and bartender, I worked in factories. But come to Hungary and you will see the economy. It’s not possible to make money there. Also I love communicating with people and I love music. This all started with dance and I wanted to go further in life and be something,” she said.
The women mention other dancers who have chosen to strip either for the love of people and dance or to make the best money they can – quickly.
Dora is saving money to study to become a beautician.
She started dancing in Greece and came to Mavericks in September last year.
Dora talks about the “hotline”, various internet forums where dancers from all over the world share their experiences about clubs and management.
Asked if she was ever scared of falling into a human trafficking cycle, she said: “I was never scared of getting into any dangerous situations because I am very smart. I look at all the details and I would never do anything against my own health and safety.”
Later the women go to the club to get into their costumes.
Girls from a range of countries sit at tables, having dinner; others are talking while others sit alone and drink coffee until they are called to the stage.
Harrison is happy to allow anyone to come into the club to see how his business is run.
He also plans to appeal Desai’s ruling while the club’s legal team have also launched a judicial review against the withdrawal of their permits. - Cape Times