ASHLEIGH FURLONG writes: Sex worker activists demonstrated during deputy president and chairperson of South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech at the South African National AIDS Conference today, criticising the failure to include decriminalisation in the final National Strategic Plan (NSP) that deals with HIV and TB for the next five years.
“Shame on you SANAC and SA government! Why was the decriminalisation of sex work removed from the final NSP 2017-2022?” read a poster.
Other posters read: “Carry condoms? Go to Jail! South Africa uses condoms as evidence of crime” and “Decriminalise sex work now”.
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.
The latest NSP does not recommend the decriminalisation of sex work. SANAC guides and coordinates the writing of the NSP. 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 criminalisation of sex work or partial criminalisation.
In a statement released during the demonstration, 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 marginalized sectors of society. The removal of decriminalization 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.
During his speech, Ramaphosa said that the contributions made to the NSP are an example “of a strong and successful social compact”. “Through this NSP, many of us right across the length and breadth have succeeded in putting together an effective social compact,” he said.
SANAC, which guides and coordinates the writing of the NSP, has denied that there was ever the recommendation for the decriminalisation of sex work in a draft version of the NSP that was sent to cabinet. This denial came from the co-chairperson of SANAC’s civil society forum, Mabalane Mfundisi, in a media briefing rejecting allegations made against SANAC.
“Our position as civil society has always been that sex work must be decriminalised but it wasn’t included as a call in NSP because we said let the law reform process [go ahead]. SANAC cannot change law in the country. Parliament changes the laws,” he said.
“Our push was to say release the report,” said Mfundisi, referring to the long delay in the release of the SALRC report.