On Saturday 4 July, two middle-aged men were overheard discussing sex workers while standing near the Frontier Hotel taxi rank. “I found two young girls in Durban. They’re willing to come and work during Festival,” one man said. His companion looked anxious. “Don’t worry – they’re fresh; not like the girls from Point Road. They’ll be given clean clothes. Their appearance will be taken care of.”
It is commonly accepted that the Festival offers a substantial boost to the Grahamstown economy – to the tune of some R90 million each year, according to figures frequently quoted by organisers – but its contribution to illicit trades is seldom discussed. Thousands upon thousands of visitors need to eat, sleep, drink, and be entertained; what of those who wish to consume drugs or pay for sex?
“There have been no reported instances of prostitution this year,” said Captain Milanda Coetzee, crime intelligence officer at the Grahamstown police station. “Sex work is something we deal with very seldom. If it ever happens it’s informal and not associated with trafficking groups or organised crime.”
But Patrick*, a car guard at the top of New Street, said on Wednesday night that sex workers could be found inside all the main bars and clubs.
“It’s easy to find them,” he explained. “They’ll approach you. They charge R50.” Patrick said that he preferred sleeping with men though, and that there were “many” male sex workers in Grahamstown. Coetzee disclosed that at a Joint Operations Committee before the Festival there were “rumours that male prostitution would increase” during the two-week period, possibly due to more homosexual men visiting
Grahamstown than during the rest of the year, but that there had been “no evidence” of this happening.
Joe*, a car guard further down New Street, said that he knew of women from Port Elizabeth, Port Alfred, and Durban visiting the Festival to sell their bodies, but attributed this information to “friends”.
“I don’t like to pay for sex,” he said, “I’m afraid of AIDS.”
* not their real names.
Kimon de Greef & Thabile Vilakazi
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