Now let me say upfront that I would be mortified if my nieces or nephews decided to pursue sex work as a profession. But if they did, I would want the law to protect them, not to victimise them. 

Sex work, otherwise known as prostitution, happens everywhere in the world, in every country, in every city. The level of social and legal acknowledgment is governed by culture, roles of men and women, and by levels of wealth and poverty.  South Africa’s laws on sex work were drafted in 1957. How on earth did our constitution, lauded by many as one of the best in the world, ever let such an injustice come to pass?

Current law vs. the new law
The current law makes it against the law to do sex work or to even be associated with sex work, so in effect, it’s a criminal offence to partake in transactional sexual relations; a futile and outdated concept that tries to enforce morality by limiting sex outside the sanctity of marriage. 

Full decriminalisation would mean the following; the removal of laws which make sex workers, their clients and others involved in sex work into criminals, while at the same time preventing local councils from making rules which can be used unfairly against sex workers. Further more, new laws would give new protection to sex worker, for example by making clients practice safer sex and brother owners to promote safer sex, and to give sex workers the same labour and occupational health and safety protection that other workers have. The new law would also pass an anti-stigma law, making discrimination on the basis that someone is a sex worker or has been a sex worker, illegal. 

Is there a precedent?

There is a precedent that we should be inspired by: New Zealand, located there in Australia’s butt crack, by fully embracing decriminalisation, they happen to have the best sex laws in the world. Neither the sex worker nor their clients can be charged with criminal offences. Countries like Sweden try to have a more egalitarian approach by having partial criminalisation by charging the john and not the sex worker, unlike in many countries where the target of the law are the women and men who trade in sex. Decriminalisation of sex work is right for South Africa, because it would have its’ foundations wholly focused around human rights. 

At this point, why people get into sex work is much more secondary to the fact that they do, and it speaks to basic, logical economic principles of supply and demand.  Sex work exists and in spite of our alleged moral code and ethics, there is a voracious appetite for it that cannot be curbed by legislation.  Our police can be better served focusing their energies of legitimate, violent and corporate crimes that plague our country. Sex work is not one of them, whereas human trafficking is.  Let’s assume we’re all adults here and that we are fully cognizant and responsible for our actions; our sex laws need to adapt with the needs of our times because like it or not, sex workers and their clients, are here to stay. 

Criminalisation does not deter, all it does is make some of the most vulnerable members of our society even more exposed.   


Kgomotso Matsunyane is the host of “Late Night with Kgomotso” on SABC2.  She is a partner at TOM Pictures, an award winning T.V. & Film Production Company in Jo’burg.  You can follow her on twitter @MotsoMatsu.