A Participatory Photo Project with Migrant Women Sex Workers
Due to domestic violence and unfaithfulness of my husband I decided to run away from my marital home of 16 years in Tembisa to look for freedom and some peace of mind. I was traumatized time and time again and although he said he would kill me and even though I reported him to the police, he was never arrested.
On Sunday 4 April I left my place in Tembisa with two kids and moved to Hillbrow to my close friend’s place at a hotel. My friend explained how she earned a living at the hotel. I agreed to the idea to sell sex since there was no other alternative for me to earn a living at that moment and time.
Being a once married woman, it was tough at first to work as a sex worker but after two weeks I made up my mind not to blame myself for what I was doing because surely I had to pay the bills and buy something to eat. I had to support myself.
The cardinal problem at the hotel is that the security guards and the management really abuse me and force me to have sex with them without paying like other clients. This really bothers me because if I don’t agree they will chase me away at night and this means that my room will be given to another person. The police as well- they are a major threat since the continuously raid the hotel and upon arrest I have to pay a fine of R300. The police scare away clients and put my life at risk.
My first time in Johannesburg was a beautiful experience. During my first stop in Hillbrow, I noticed a coke bottle on top of a shop on the corner of Klein and Pretoria Streets. During a visit to one of my friend’s places, at the High Point Building, the same friend tried to kill me by throwing me out of the open window. We had been drinking and having fun as our usual form of entertainment. He was high on drugs.
One of my dreams is to be my own boss and to have my own salon in Hillbrow. At the moment, I am a beauty therapist operating on Pretoria Street.
I do not like Hillbrow because there are some unhealthy and dirty spaces. I also do not like it because it is bad for business. I think street vendors need clean spaces to work. Life in Hillbrow is good. I go to church every Sunday after which I go out for a drink at the bar. I also go to the shops to do some shopping. I think if most flats were repaired and maintained more people will have a proper place to live. I hate the fact that the place that I am staying in is dirty and it needs to be fixed.
Johannesburg is a good place and I have learned a lot of things and made some friends. I have participated in educations projects, like peer education where I educate my friends about taking care of themselves and what they can do to live a healthy life.
I came to Hillbrow in June 1998 with my friend Nonhlanhla. I experienced a tough time because of the language barrier as I could not speak Zulu.
I met a guy in a town and he asked me to choose what type of drink I wanted. I chose Sprite and Zimba chips and then after I finished eating he asked me to go with him to his place. I refused. The guy started beating me up and calling me names. He told me that I was supposed to go with him because I had spent his money, “You bitch! I just bought you a drink and chips so we have to go!” he said.
I did not understand that he meant Zimba chips and I thought that he meant fresh potato chips so I started arguing with him. He beat me up again until I had bruises on my face. He then took me to his place where he raped me without protection. I became HIV positive as a result of this incident.
After the incident, I got a place to stay at a hotel. One day, the guy who beat me and raped me came to drink at the hotel. I told the security guards about what he had done. They beat him up until he was bruised like he had done to me.
I never saw my friend Nonhlanhla again and she does not know what has happened to me. I now see Johannesburg as a beautiful place with lots of job and education opportunities.
I came to the land of opportunities (Johannesburg, South Africa) in 2006. I faced difficulties crossing the border illegally from Zimbabwe.
Life was hard in the city. I was alone with no job or source of income but I was fortunate to share a cottage with Zimbabweans.
It was hard to get a job because I did not have a work permit neither did I have SA citizenship. I had no choice but to create work for myself. As the saying goes, “A girl has got to do what a girl has go to do”.
Jo’burg was not as easy as I had anticipated. Hillbrow was shady and evil. I was pushed around to hunt for myself and to be streetwise and to survive the city.
My first time in Hillbrow was bad because I was robbed at gunpoint and they took all of my belongings. I was having a Blackberry phone, a laptop, my academic and professional certificates, clothes, R500 and my passport. My life was ruined as I was left with no form of identification and as a result could not get a job.
I went to Soweto where I stayed with a friend whom I had met in Hillbrow. She welcomed me on a temporary basis. I spent almost two weeks indoors as a result of the traumatic experience. It was like imprisonment because I could not move around without my passport until I got my asylum papers.
As for now I am working hard so that I get a bursary and further my studies.
Johannesburg is a good place to live but its being ruined by criminal activities especially drug dealing and sex business. There is a high risk to teenagers who may get involved in early sexual activities which could ruin their lives. Basic foodstuffs are affordable, which attracts foreigners because of the country’s currency stability compared to others in the Southern Africa region.
My aim is to help young girls from neighboring countries not to fall into the same trap as most of us did. My passion is to get involved in Women Support Community Based Work.
I obtained a diploma in Nursing while I was living in Zimbabwe. In March 2010, I came to South Africa to look for a job in what I am qualified and trained to do. I have been disappointed because it has been five months since I came but have not found a job in my profession. I could have gone anywhere but I decided to come to Johannesburg because I know that the money here is good. A friend of mine who was already staying here invited me to stay in Hillbrow. I discovered that the place was densely populated and some areas were filthy which was completely unexpected.
My pictures talk about how people survive in Hillbrow.
Hillbrow is not a good environment for growing families with young children because many things happen here, such as drug abuse, premarital sex and alcoholism. I think about my own children back home. I have two daughters and two sons and I realize that it is better for them to stay in Zimbabwe where they can get a good education and be safe.
Not all people who live in Hillbrow are bad as there are some who attend church. There are places where people can relax and enjoy themselves such as parks, pubs and restaurants. In my spare time, I enjoy shopping, eating out, going to the cinema or attending church. Although there are some aspects I like about Hillbrow, I would like to back to Zimbabwe and look for a job.
I think in the past, Johannesburg was a good place and this is why it is so famous. However, illegal immigrants have denigrated it as they please. Today Johannesburg is a health hazard. It is congested, unhygienic and people do not take care of their health.
I took this picture to show my pain in Hillbrow. One day I gave birth to a baby girl. It was a joyful thing for me because I could finally have a sister because I was the only girl child back home. I was staying in a hotel and at that time they did not allow us to stay with children at hotels. I took her to a creche where they took children. When she was six months she passed away. I was sleeping at the hotel and one day at 0430h I was woken up by someone knocking on the door. It was the child minder from the creche. She told me that the child was sick and that I needed to dress and go to her place. I was very scared. When I got to her place I found out that my child was dead. The next thing that I knew was waking up in a hospital bed. My friend told me again that my child was no more. I realized that I was alone. I had no one and had to bury this child. I asked my friend when, where and how to bury my child. At that time when we got money we just used it and we never thought about the future so I didn’t have money to bury my child. I gathered all of the valuable stuff that I had and sold it so that I could bury the child. Men in Hillbrow would stay with you, run away and leave you alone.
When I see a hotel, I see a place that reminds me of the good and painful things that have happened to my life. The painful things include getting injured in your room and when you go to security guards they would not accept your case. Getting help outside is dangerous as you might get hurt especially if people they know you are a sex worker, they insult you and call you names. Some people went inside the hotel with guns. I remember one day, they got into the hotel and short a friend of mine nine times.
Hillbrow is a good place in terms of health facilities. You can go to the hospital and get help when injured and there is also a health clinic that helps sex workers. You get the required help from them and there are also doctors that help us. What I have seen in Hillbrow is that it is not the right place to stay in and it is true when people say ‘this place is crazy and hectic’ especially for those who are far away from their homes. I have stayed in Hillbrow for 16 years.
Oliveira, E. (2011) Migrant Women Sex Workers: How urban space impacts self (re) presentation in Hillbrow, South Africa. http://wiredspace.wits.ac.za/
Living with HIV: How I Treat Myself
Oliveira, E. (2012). Living with HIV: How I Treat Myself. (Laura María Agustín, Ed.).The 13th issue of Research for Sex Work was released on December 17, 2012.
Oliveira, E. (2012). Working the City: Experiences of Migrant Women in Inner-City Johannesburg: A Participatory Photo Project by Elsa Oliveira. Newsletter of the Visual Sociology Thematic Group .
Oliveira, E (in press) A look at the experiences and perceptions of health among migrant women sex workers in Hillbrow, Johannesburg African Women’s Journal.
Oliveira, E. (2011) Searching for the ‘land of opportunities’. Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration, 1, 58-63.
Oliveira, E., Lety, D. (2011) A short Story about being a sex worker in Hillbrow: Living with HIV and how I treat myself Equal Treatment, Magazine for the Treatment Action Campaign Treatment Action Magazine, 38, 16-17.
Vearey, J., Oliveira, E., Madzimure, T., Ntini, B., (2011) Working the City: experiences of migrant women in inner-city Johannesburg African Media and Diversity Journal, 9, 228-233.
(to be presented in July 2012) Home/Land: Women, Citizenship, Photographies. School of the Arts - Loughborough University http://www.lboro.ac.uk/
(January 2012) Working the City: Experiences of Migrant Women in Inner-City Johannesburg to be exhibited at the Department of Public Health, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, USA.
(2011) Working the City: Experiences of Migrant Women in Inner-City Johannesburg to be exhibited at the 10th International Conference on Urban Health, Minas Gerais, Brazil: November 2011. http://www.icuh2011.com/
(2011) Working the City: Experiences of Migrant Women in Inner-City Johannesburg exhibited at the Drama for Life: Sex Actually Festival, Johannesburg, South Africa: August-September, 2011. http://www.dramaforlife.co.za
(2011) Working the City: Experiences of Migrant Women in Inner-City Johannesburg exhibited at the International Association of Forced Migration Studies, Kampala, Uganda: July 2011. http://www.iasfmconference.org/
(2011) Working the City: Experiences of Migrant Women in Inner-City Johannesburg exhibited at the 1st International HIV Social Science and Humanities Conference, Durban, South Africa: June, 2011. http://www.iaohss.org/
(2011) Working the City: Experiences of Migrant Women in Inner-City Johannesburg, Goethe Institute, Wide Angle, April 2011. http://www.wideangle.org.za/
(2011) Working the City: Experiences of Migrant Women in Inner-City Johannesburg, Market Photo Workshop, Newtown, Johannesburg, October 2010. http://www.marketphoto