By Ella Smook

Cape Town officials are concerned about the unregulated growth of the sex industry and are taking steps to try to prevent the city becoming a red-light district in the run-up to the World Cup in 2010.

Last week five applications, ostensibly for adult-related businesses, were put on hold until September as the city seeks legal advice and more information about the applications - " to protect itself from an anticipated increase in adult-related businesses", said Good Hope subcouncil chairperson JP Smith.

One of the problems the city is grappling with is a grey area in the Businesses Act, which does not require applicants to stipulate whether a business is sex-related.

In addition, authorities are not empowered by the act to consider the nature of a business before approving an application.

Massage parlours, strip clubs, escort agencies and sex shops operate with a normal business licence.

The city has now formulated a policy, together with a new integrated zoning scheme with an adult business overlay, which will address this loophole.

These are ready to be presented to portfolio committees before going to a public participation process.

All the applications presented last week - for businesses in Bree Street, Bantry Bay and Sea Point - were categorised under "Health and Entertainment - Massage".

One applicant told the Cape Argus his business would dispatch "a man or a woman" to a client and admitted his masseuses provided services other than straight massage.

Smith said he would commission a report to find out whether the number of applications to operate adult businesses was increasing.

He said the Businesses Act left little discretionary power to licence-issuing authorities, and that the council was little more than a rubber stamp.

Local authorities may only refuse an application on the grounds of a venue's proximity to a school or religious institution, or if the business would be located in a predominantly residential neighbourhood.

Refusing an application on any grounds other than those listed in the Businesses Act 71 of 1991 could be construed as an infringement of the constitutional rights of the applicant.

Commenting on concerns about a proliferation of adult entertainment, the Mayco member for strategy and planning, Marian Nieuwoudt, said it was realistic to expect "adult shops" to grab opportunities presented by rapid urbanisation and economic growth expectations connected to 2010.

And Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa (FTTSA) has warned that an event like the World Cup could boost Cape Town's reputation as a sex destination.

The organisation will discuss child sex tourism, and a code of conduct intended to prevent it, at a workshop in Cape Town on Friday, in an attempt to raise awareness with leading tourism industry players.

At the World Cup in Germany in 2006, host cities erected "sex garages" on city fringes to accommodate the expected increase in demand for sexual services - a move criticised by the US, which said brothels could contribute to human trafficking.

The latest Cape Town applications follow a similar one lodged in May that met with vociferous resistance from councillors. It is on appeal.

Smith said turning down the May application would create "a good test case" for amending the Businesses Act, which ought to make provision for requirements for adult shops.

The city could not "in good conscience" support the application, and the Businesses Act should be amended.

"We are not prudes," Smith said, "but there is a place for everything."

Should the city's appeals body uphold the subcouncil decision to turn down a business licence, the applicant may appeal to the premier.

The office of Premier Ebrahim Rasool has indicated that appeals will be judged on individual merit.

Nieuwoudt said the issue of "adult shops" could not be addressed "easily and efficiently" within the existing legal framework.

"The development of policy and the proposed integrated zoning scheme for the City of Cape Town will address this void in the legislation," she said.

The zoning scheme would allow communities to submit concerns and objections to an application.