Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday it's concerning that, while the Department of Health supplies sex workers with condoms, it is not uncommon for the police to confiscate them.
In a speech hailed as a "historic" moment for sex workers by the Sex Workers' Education and Advocacy Taskforce, Ramaphosa said sex workers could not be denied their humanity and their right to dignity.
Ramaphosa was speaking at the launch of the National Sex Work Sector Plan during Human Rights Month.
"We have one organ of the state providing a very necessary service and another organ of the state taking that very service away.
"This is not necessarily the fault of the police. This is the consequence of our inability to develop a coherent approach to the challenges facing sex workers," he said.
"Whatever views individuals may hold about sex work, whatever the statutes may say about the legality of sex work, we cannot deny the humanity and inalienable rights of people who engage in sex work."
He said sex workers had the right to be treated with dignity, the right to their bodily integrity and the right to say no.
"We have heard today that the rate of HIV among sex workers is among the highest we have seen in any community in this country," he said.
Ramaphosa said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of California had conducted the first detailed study of HIV prevalence among female sex workers in South Africa.
He said the National Sex Work Sector Plan was about affirming the right of all South Africans to life, to dignity, to health - regardless of their occupation and regardless of their circumstances.
He said an education programme was at the core of the plan, through which 1 000 peer educators would be recruited to provide support and assistance to about 70 000 sex workers over the next three years.
The plan aims to sensitise healthcare providers, social workers and law enforcement officials on the right of sex workers to quality care, confidentiality and consent.
"Consistent with our commitment to ensure all South Africans have access to legal representation, Sanac [the SA National Aids Council] has partnered with Legal Aid SA to provide legal and paralegal support through a call centre service to sex workers who are arrested," he said.
"We launch this plan knowing that our national effort to arrest new HIV infections will not succeed if sex workers are disempowered, marginalised and stigmatised.
"In launching the plan, we call on all sex workers to recognise the enormous power they have to help our nation in making Aids a thing of the past," Ramaphosa said.