A prostitute waits for customers. Christian Hartmann Reuters
Ask men to provide proof of their HIV status before they pay for sex.

This was one of the key messages by Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, addressing dozens of sex workers in Durban this week.

At the meeting, held on the eve of the ANC's 107th birthday celebrations in the city, Motsoaledi and Deputy Police Minister Bongani Mkongi reassured local sex workers that the party was committed to pushing its decision, taken at their national policy conference in July 2017, to decriminalise sex work.

Motsoaledi urged women to protect themselves while doing their work.

“When men come to you he must give you proof that he went for an HIV test. Men must know that when they go to pay for sex, you will want proof of their HIV status. You are selling sex, not your life. Do not agree when the man says he will pay more to have sex without a condom. You are giving power to men unnecessarily,” he said.

Motsoaledi said incidents of police officers confiscating condoms from women was in conflict with his department's mandate to provide free condoms to all citizens and urged the women to report any incidents where police were abusing their authority.

Mkongi also weighed in, stating that “chasing after sex workers was a waste of resources”.

“Our people find it difficult to find work in the Republic of South Africa because of some social economic issues.

"Some people are entrepreneurs, others have tenders, others don't have such opportunities, and their only option is to go to sex work.

“It's not as if they do not contribute to the tax base of the country. When they are paying for hotels, and buy clothing from the shops to be beautiful on the streets, they contribute to the tax base, and therefore, should be treated equally before the law,” he said.

Mkongi said police have cash in transits, bank robberies, hijackings, rapes and many other crimes to handle, rather than chasing sex workers.

He said his department was tasked with confiscating condoms, including those “with sperm inside” to use as evidence in court for cases against suspected sex workers.

Mkongi said there were many “moralists” who were fighting the legalisation.

“It's your human right to take decisions about your body. These moralists, they argue in Parliament, they argue in church, but their morality is displaced because the very same people are chowing the whole church, sleeping with other people's wives,” said Mkongi.

He urged the women gathered at the meeting to organise themselves and fight for their righ“We, the government, especially the police, we are not your enemy,” he said.

Kholi Buthelezi, of Sisonke, an organisation fighting for the rights of sex workers, said while they have heard too often the promises made by government, she urged sex workers to join organisations that had their best interests at heart.

“I want an investigation done into the misuse of government resources every time police come after us. We are working. We pay for hotel fees. We pay for things,” she said.

Sex workers said they wanted police to stop harassing them.

“These police officers want spot fines of sometimes R3000. This needs to stop. We need to feed our children, but now we have to give up the money we made. We want the government to make sex work legal, so we can do our work without worrying about the police,” said one woman.