The trials of sex-worker moms
Weekend Argus spoke to women in the sex industry to find out how they balanced their lives as mothers and sex workers whose families are not aware of the job they do.
Fearful that her children might be ostracised and victimised because of the work she does, Heideveld mother of two Jenine Spiker* spoke with caution.
“Don’t get me wrong, I am not ashamed of the work that I do. I am a mother and am very good at it but I need money to feed my children. I hide what I do to protect them because we all know how society treats us and what they think of us,” she said.
As she cleaned their modest two-bedroom RDP home, Spiker lifted a yellow cloth to wipe dust off her television stand where a 32-inch colour television set sat. Next to the television was a beer bottle from the night before. Spiker admitted she drank excessively and on occasion used drugs to numb her pain.
“I leave home every morning after the children have gone off to school and come back before they do. People in the area think I work as a domestic worker. Then, in the evening, after I have cooked and fed the kids I leave again for night shift.”.
Spiker lives with her two brothers, mother, aunt, a niece and her two children.
Though she completed matric and had done part-time jobs at call centres, her luck ran out in 2015.
“I used to work, but never anything permanent. I lost my last job as a debt collecting agent at a call centre in Bellville late in 2014 and I really struggled. My mother and aunt are elderly people and they both get grants.
“I have to do my bit for my children. Their fathers don’t support them so I have to do something. That is how I got into this business. If my children need money for outings at school, I am able to provide. If they need to go out with their friends, I am able to provide and that is the most important thing to me. The abuse and police harassment is something I have learnt to deal with. This is the deck life has dealt me and I choose to embrace it.”.
Just a few kilometres away was another group of women and Weekend Argus found them all in one house after a long night of “fun”.
Though they were all in the same industry, they had varying stories of despair.
Linda Makula* came to Cape Town with no employment prospects, but had hope for a better life in the big city. She packed a bag and left her then 7-year-old son.
When she got off the bus at the Bellville terminus, sad reality kicked in.
But her determination to build and create a life for herself encouraged her. The 28-year-old sex worker, who escaped a life of poverty back in her village in the Eastern Cape in 2015, said her children had often gone to bed without food and looking at her hungry son had been too much to bear. Because of a financial situation at home, she had believed she could live a better life in the city.
“When I arrived I slept at the station for a few nights. In the mornings I walked around looking for employment, until I met some foreigners and I became the girl who partied and slept with different foreigners for money to survive,” said Makula.
Beside her job as a sex worker and having to deal with the abuse of clients, Makula is a lesbian and her partner is also a sex worker. They live in a brothel and often face police harassment, rape and being taken to distant locations by clients, only to be left there while also not being paid for their services. Makula said her co-workers knew she was a lesbian and female clients were often referred to her, but she had no qualms about also servicing men.
Amanda GamGam*, a mother of three, works with Makula and believes sex work has been her saving grace. After having struggled for years looking for a job she found herself in the sex trade in 2014. She had no financial assistance from her family or the fathers of her children. Feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place, she found herself immersed in the risky business of selling her body so she could give her 13-, 11-, and 3-year-old children a better life.
“I love my children, they are the reason I do what I do. They do not know that I am a sex worker because it is still criminalised but I am not ashamed of what I do, it puts food on the table,” explained GamGam.
Though the women did not regret their choice of employment, they said on average they “can make anything between R700 and R800 on a slow day, but things have changed this year and we can go home with as little as R50, though our normal rate is between R70 and R100 for a blowjob, we sometimes have to go a bit lower because we want the money”.
* Not their real names