Attempts To Abolish Prostitution A Futile Exercise

By Hloni Nyetanyane

THE sight of scantily dressed women with straightened hair seducing horny men loaded with cash, is not a millennial innovation. Women have always traded their bodies for cash, expensive items and special favours since pre-historic, biblical and medieval times. Prostitution is one of the most pre-historic means of survival that women mastered.

For purposes of contextual clarity and in response to Mickey Meji whose Kwanele NGO seeks to abolish prostitution, I shall not euphemistically refer to prostitution as sex work, escort industry, hooker business, street-walking or mavuso as they call it in Soshanguve The intention is to chronicle why any attempt to abolish prostitution is an exercise in futility.

Biblical and medieval times

As already hinted, prostitution was a common enterprise in biblical times. A case in point was when a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab had accommodated two Israelite spies at her brothel in the city of Jericho. The book of Joshua 2:1 records two spies who had been sent to reconnoiter the city of Jericho before a radical take-over. The spies specifically sought accommodation at a brothel so as to raise as little suspicion as possible before the attack. When Joshua and his warriors had killed all inhabitants of Jericho and burnt the city down to ashes, only Rahab the prostitute and her family were spared. The Bible records that the Harlot of Jericho had suddenly become the paragon of virtue.      

Then there was Louis XV, French King who had two official mistresses named Madame De Pompadour and Madame De Barry. These were women who mingled with royalty while their peers were out collecting water and firewood. The King couldn’t resist their bosoms. Their erotic screams reverberated through royal boudoir in Versailles while exchanging body fluids with the most powerful man in the land. Prostituting themselves to the King spared them the hardships that came with being a commoner woman.

Years later in 1962, there was a much talked-about sexual encounter between President JFK Kennedy and the sex icon of Hollywood named Marilyn Monroe. This was the same woman whose nude pictures appeared on the cover of the first issue of Playboy magazine. Many historians are convinced it was during a function at Bing Crosby’s house when the alleged affair first took place. 

African Culture and Christianity

Many opponents of prostitution often advance African culture and Christianity to berate the trade. Paradoxically, it’s the custodians of African culture who hide behind culture to enjoy prostitution. A case in point was when eSwatini King Mswati III married her 11th wife Zena Mahlangu. Mahlangu was an 18 year-old young woman in her final year of high school when the King sent his aides to bring her to the royal house. Mahlangu’s mother took umbrage and approached the court for recourse. To her dismay, her daughter who had already tasted the glitz and glamour of the royal house and being chauffeured around, refused to return home. She was determined to become the King’s 11th wife come hell or high water. Surely the young Mahlangu couldn’t have fallen in love with a man twice her age and one she never even met before.

There are many countries around the world where it  common practice for parents to marry their young daughters off to rich men as some kind of hunger alleviation mechanism. To say parents marry their daughters off to rich men is an under-statement. In many African countries, parents pimp their children off for money and hide behind the veneer of African culture.

In a bizarre turn of events, Pastor Timothy Omotoso of Jesus Dominion Church is standing trial for running a “prostitution ring” at a mission house. Many young girls got recruited by elder women to come “serve” the Lord at the mission house. Many of them were cajoled into sleeping with the “Man of God” under the guise of serving. Some of these girls had a chance to escape and report the matter to police while some decided to stay put and maintain their silence. In a nutshell, both African culture and Christianity are complicit in promotion of prostitution.

International trends

In 2003 New Zealand became the first country to decriminalise prostitution by introducing the Prostitution Reform Act. With an estimated 42million prostitutes globally, countries like Mexico, United States, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Argentina and Brazil have relaxed laws to allow consenting adults to exchange sex for money.

In 2016 France passed legislation to encourage prostitutes to quit their trade by offering a monthly grant of 330 euros. The intention was to target 600 prostitutes by 2018. Contrary to expectation, only 55 prostitutes signed up for the programme. The women protested that the amount was too minuscule to cover their living expenses – that they were better off in the streets.

World Health Organization (WHO) believes decriminalisation could lead to 46% reduction in new HIV infections for prostitutes over a period of 10 years. As if that’s not enough, global organisations like UNAIDS, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are also proponents of decriminalization.

The straw that breaks the camel’s back is pornography. This is the type of prostitution that happens under rolling cameras wherein women are paid lucrative amounts to engage in sexual activities with strangers. Pornography has got nothing to do with performing arts or acting. The bottom line is that it is paying people for publicised sex. This industry generates annual net of $15bn in United States and $97bn globally. Considering these factors, it becomes much clear that it will not take someone from Khayelitsha to slam the brakes on prostitution.

South African context

Sailing closer to home, we have blesser and mavuso phenomena in South Africa. A blesser being a rich older man who flaunts cash to have sexual relations with a younger woman. Mavuso happens mainly in Soshanguve (Pretoria). It doesn’t have one specific location- it moves from one venue to another over weekends. The host for the weekend would organise a booze and sex binge where men would buy booze for women who came empty handed and disappear with them in the wee hours of the morning. Naturally there would be a sexual interaction between two strange adults and the man would wake the woman up with cash later in the morning, hence “mavuso.”

Women who are blessed by older men (blessees), don’t ply their trade out in the streets where they might get groped by every Jimmy. They operate from upmarket apartments and accompany high-profile men to social events such as Durban July and Joy of Jazz. Though blessees don’t strut their stuff in the streets of Hillbrow, Sunnyside or along Maseru border post when the skylines dim, the bottom line is that they are glorified prostitutes titivated in 3D make-up, Peruvian hair and iPhones they never paid for.

In South Africa we also have educated women who sleep with influential men to secure business deals and climb the corporate ladder. Job seekers even skip job interview processes and jump straight into bed to lie on their backs to secure appointment contracts. In layman’s terms, all these boil down to nothing but prostitution.


Prostitution is a trade that stood the test of time. It survived the burning inferno that ravaged Sodom and Gomorrah. It survived the first and second world wars when other industries collapsed. It dusted itself from harsh realities of the 1929 Great Depression and sailed through 2008 world economic recession. Over centuries, prostitution has been able to re-invent and re-brand itself in sync with ever-changing fortunes of time.

Blesser and Mavuso phenomena in South Africa are quintessential variations of how prostitution has been able to re-invent and re-brand itself. The trade has solid clientele willing to part ways with cash for coitus pleasure.

The fact that kings and presidents also find their fingers in the proverbial cookie jar (not in the sense of stealing money in this case), is testimony that law-makers are not about to outlaw prostitution anytime soon.

Even oracles of morality who are supposed to preach against prostitution, are often caught with their pants down.

It has been argued that if footballers can trade with their legs and singers with their mouths, why can’t prostitutes trade with their vaginas? Who said one part of the body is holier than the rest? I shall not say any endeavour to abolish prostitution is delusional. I shall however say…………Goodluck!!



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