Sex workers demonstrate during Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech

South African National AIDS Council did not include decriminalising sex work in its HIV strategy plan

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Photo of demonstrators
Sex workers protest as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the South African National AIDS Conference in Durban.

On Thursday, sex worker activists demonstrated during Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech at the South African National AIDS Conference in Durban. Ramaphosa is chairperson of South African National AIDS Council (SANAC).

“Shame on you SANAC and SA government! Why was the decriminalisation of sex work removed from the final NSP 2017-2022?” asked one poster.

Other posters read: “Carry condoms? Go to Jail! South Africa uses condoms as evidence of crime” and “Decriminalise sex work now”.

The sex workers were criticising the failure to include decriminalisation in the final National Strategic Plan (NSP) that deals with HIV and TB for 2017 to 2022.

Public health research supports decriminalisation in the battle against HIV.

The demonstrators who are part of the Asijiki Coalition, which includes several civil society organisations, believe that the decriminalisation of sex work is essential for the protection of the human rights of sex workers.

SANAC guides and coordinates the writing of the NSP, and the latest NSP does not include the recommendation for the decriminalisation of sex work.

The recent release of the long awaited report on sex work from the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) was also a disappointment for sex worker activists as it advocated for either continued or partial criminalisation of sex work.

A statement released by the Asijiki Coalition demanded that the NSP be amended by SANAC to include the decriminalisation of sex work.

“Earlier, civil society organisations expressed concerns about SANAC’s efficacy and ability to address the material conditions of the most marginalised sectors of society. The removal of decriminalisation of sex work, together with a number of other robust sections on targets and human resources from the final draft of the NSP, are deeply worrying,” said the statement.

SANAC has denied that there was ever a recommendation for the decriminalisation of sex work in a draft version of the NSP sent to cabinet.

In a media briefing rejecting allegations made against SANAC, co-chairperson of SANAC’s civil society forum Mabalane Mfundisi said, “Our position as civil society has always been that sex work must be decriminalised, but it wasn’t included at all in the NSP because we said let the law reform process [go ahead]. SANAC cannot change law in the country. Parliament changes the laws.”

During his speech, Ramaphosa said the NSP was an example “of a strong and successful social compact”.


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