GROUNDVIEW: Let sex workers and their clients be

Also: Leadership needed by the Ministry of Higher Education and Training

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Photo of student protest
Students protest at Wits University because the institution is not registering people who owe the university large amounts of money. Photo: Zoë Postman

This is GroundUp’s occasional editorial on topics we publish.

This week we published a feature on the sex work industry. Sex workers and the organisations representing them want the law to leave them be. There are many reasons why decriminalising sex work would be good for society.

Because their work is illegal, sex workers have to hide in the shadows with their clients. This makes their work more dangerous. Operating outside the law, they’re more likely to have to deal with dodgy people taking advantage of their vulnerability. It’s harder for health services to reach them, and harder for them to approach health services.

If sex workers could operate without fear of the law, they could organise into unions or business associations. They could free themselves from tyrant bosses (or pimps), operate in clean premises with security, where it is harder for people to abuse them. They could openly provide health information, and pay for retirement annuities and UIF. They could also pay income tax. It may also be easier then to prevent underage sex work and sex-trafficking.

A poor solution, that would prevent these benefits would be the half-baked decriminalisation proposed by the South African Law Commission. In this proposal providing sex work would not be illegal, but paying for it would. It’s hard to understand the thinking behind this. It appears to be informed by the view that paying for sex is immoral and that men who pay women for sex are by definition exploiting them (it’s a view not shared by sex worker organisations). But in a country with more than a quarter of adults out of formal work and one in five adults HIV-positive, personal views on morals should not dictate policy to the detriment of the economy and public health.

(Incidentally, next week GroundUp will start publishing an in-depth series on unemployment, the most vexing problem of our country.)

Student protests: leadership needed from Ministry of Higher Education and Training

Student protests have broken out at campuses across the country. Some of those protests have turned ugly.

Nic Spaull, an education researcher at Stellenbosch University, warned this would happen. He pointed out that three factors made this likely: a change in policy that allowed many more matrics to qualify for university (without necessarily performing any better at school or being better prepared for tertiary education), the introduction of free higher education for students with annual household incomes less than R600,000, and pre-election opportunism by some politicians.

Add to this the high levels of student debt and apparent funding disorganisation by either NSFAS or the universities, and what is happening is entirely unsurprising.

As with the Fees Must Fall protests from a couple of years ago, it is the management of tertiary institutions who has been saddled with having to respond to the protests so far. Let’s hope there will be more leadership this time from the Ministry of Higher Education and Training.

Questions and answers: Introducing GroundUp’s agony aunt

We have started an agony aunt column. Well, sort of.

While we can’t advise you on love and relationships, we have been answering your questions on devious banks, burdensome debt, difficult bosses and pushy schools.

Many of these questions and answers are useful for a lot of people. So we’ve decided to start publishing them.

Don’t worry, we change the details enough to make sure your confidentiality is maintained. No names are published either. You can see our first published questions and answers here:

We usually take about a week to answer.

So if you have a burning question, why not try us? Email your question to

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll advise you on where to find love too.

Some questions we’ve answered:

I am a transman. I want to find out more about transitioning.

We work long hours and below minimum wage. What can we do?

What can I do about every school in my area rejecting my disabled child?

TOPICS:  Sex work

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