Culture: Sex & Prostitution in South Africa
Sex in South Africa
According to the Durex Sexual Wellbeing Survey of 2007-2008, 71%
of respondents from South Africa reported having weekly sex with
a 50% satisfaction rate. This compares with 82% in Brazil, 53% in
the USA, 55% in the UK, 68% in Germany,
72% in Switzerland,
70% in Austria
and a lowly 34% in Japan.
Sex in the Rainbow Nation is certainly different than it was under
apartheid when mixed-race
marriage and interracial sex were declared illegal. The Sexual Offences
Act/Immorality Act and the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of
1949 strictly controlled sex between races, same-sex relations,
and sexuality in general. During apartheid many black workers in
the mining industries were kept apart from their families in single-sex
hostels and dormitories with only a few days leave a month, which
encouraged sexual frustration, the frequent use of prostitutes and
numerous same-sex liaisons. These conditions were to have massive
consequences for the explosive spread of AIDS from the 1980s.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of rape in the world.
A 2009 survey by the country's Medical Research Council found that
one in four South African men had raped someone, and nearly 50%
of the men admitted more than one offence. Most of the first cases
of rape occurred when the men were still teenagers and were often
part of gang rapes.
One in 20 of the men surveyed admitted they had raped a woman or
girl in the last year and one in ten said they had been raped by
Gender inequality and the generally low level of male esteem for
woman are some of the reasons behind the disturbing figures. A recent
trade union report in South Africa revealed that a child was raped
every three minutes with most cases unreported.
HIV AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases are also huge
problems in South Africa. The first AIDS-related death in South
Africa was in 1982 with the official number of cases reaching 10,000
by the mid-1990s. Other unofficial estimates for AIDS had the number
nearer a million by 1995 with new cases occurring at the staggering
rate of 500 per day!
AIDS remains South Africa's biggest killer and a huge threat to
public health and economic development. An estimated 5.2 million
people were living with HIV and AIDS in South Africa in 2008, more
than in any other country in the world.
An estimated 250,000 South Africans died of AIDS in 2008 and around
70,000 babies are born HIV positive every year, adding to figures
that suggest 11% of the population is HIV positive. Mpumulanga (15.4%)
and KwaZulu-Natal (15.8%) have the highest rates by province with
the Western Cape the lowest.
South Africa's struggle against AIDS is not helped by the disempowerment
of South African women and the attitudes of its male leaders. President
Thabo Mbeki's initial stance on AIDS was to reject the provision
of anti-retroviral drugs in the nation's hospitals. His successor,
the polygamist Jacob Zuma and father of 18 children, shook off a
charge of rape but admitted in court that he had had unprotected
sex with his accuser, whom he knew to be HIV-positive. As a precaution
against infection, Zuma told the court he took a shower, a move
that lead Zapiro, South Africa's most famous political cartoonist
to depict Zuma with a shower grafted on to his head.
As South Africa heads to host the World Cup in 2010 there have
been calls to legalize and register the country's prostitutes of
whom 50% are thought to be HIV-positive.
Attitudes towards commercial sex workers could not be as far removed
as they are in the previous World Cup host - Germany, where commercial
sex work is both legal and regulated to protect both CSWs and their
clients. Prostitution is considered immoral and has been illegal
in South Africa since the 1950s.
There are no overt brothels in South Africa but prostitution has
mushroomed in recent years. Newspapers openly advertise "escort
services" which are fairly explicit as to the nature of services
Many low-income black women are forced into the trade through poverty
and have contributed to the spread of AIDS due to lack of awareness
of STD prevention techniques.
More upmarket commercial sex workers ply their trade in the hotels
and bars in the plush suburbs of northern Johannesburg
such as Sandton and Randburg.
Despite campaigns by health workers and commercial sex workers'
groups to push for change in South Africa, the country seems a long
way from allowing the legalization or decriminalization of commercial
sex, which would aid the Rainbow Nation in its fight against sexually
transmitted diseases and maybe lessen the incredibly high incidence