Health-e (Cape Town)

South Africa: Sex Work a Dangerous Job in Ermelo

Sex workers in Ermelo, Mpumalanga pay a high price for financial freedom.

Sifiso Nkabinde* moved to Ermelo three years ago but with scarce economic opportunities, he faced some tough choices in order to provide for himself and his family. In the end, he says that sex work has paid the bills but it is a dangerous job.

"You are exposed to the possibility of rape, beatings and killing," he says. "Sometimes I ask myself why all this judgment against us because we are all children of God."

He also faced threats from police.

"I use to get harassed by the police but that stopped because I opened a case against two of police officers," he says

Judgment is not new to Nkabinde who is gay and living with HIV. He says he faces a double dose of stigma due to both his sexual orientation and his HIV status.

"It was never easy growing up because of my sexual preference, and finding work has been the hardest part," he says. "It wasn't my choice to be a gay... and sometimes I wish people can just stop judging me and know Sfiso as a person."

"I don't know why it is hard for people to accept gay and HIV-positive people as members of the community," says Nkabinde, who adds that he uses condoms to protect both himself and his clients from HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

People living with HIV should still use condoms to prevent becoming re-infection, or contracting additional strains of the virus that may complicate treatment and lead to drug resistance.

He says joining the local Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) branch five years ago helped him deal with stigma and find a sense of community.

"At the time I felt empty and lost," he says. "My TAC comrades helped fill the emptiness and to find myself again."

"I didn't become a TAC member because of my HIV status, but because I am a gay man," he adds. "At TAC they say 'TAC ikhaya', which means 'TAC is home.'"

While stigma and discrimination are still problems in the community, Mabunda says his family has always accepted him.

"I was born into a Christian and loving family," he tells OurHealth. "Being a gay was never an issue in my family, and they always supported me."

But he adds he still has not told his family about his line of work.

"I have been keeping my work a secret, but they will surely understand some day," he adds.

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