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London World Cup fans warned about Rustenburg’s HIV sex workers

David Cohen
11.06.10

The danger tomorrow for supporters at England's World Cup opener is Aids, as local HIV-positive prostitutes plan 'the mother of all welcoming parties'...

Tomorrow, 50,000 football supporters will descend on the Royal Bafokeng Stadium and the fanpark in nearby Rustenburg for England's opening World Cup match against the USA, and two contrasting worlds will collide with potentially calamitous results.

This is not hostility between the sets of fans but a collision which will put the followers of both teams on the same side and is infinitely more seductive — and dangerous — than that.

Because waiting for them will be hundreds of scantily clad “hospitality workers” who — an Evening Standard investigation can reveal — are planning “the mother of all welcoming parties”.

“We have been waiting for the English and Americans to come to town and now that they are finally here, we are going to offer them a treat they will never forget,” says Mpho, 34, a sex worker from the Freedom Park Squatter Camp, a sprawling shantytown with no running water or electricity visited by the Standard a few miles from the stadium.

But boozed-up fans who succumb could get far more than they bargained for. South Africa has the highest number of people infected with HIV in the world — 5.7 million sufferers. And it is believed that as many as half of South Africa's sex workers are HIV-positive.

Five of Mpho's close friends, all fellow sex workers, have died of Aids in the past three years. And she would be dead, too, if not for an extraordinary Londoner, known as Mother Georgina, who supplies Mpho with anti-retroviral drugs. Georgina Boswell, a community nurse and midwife from west London, is seen as a Mother Teresa figure in these parts for the life-saving frontline work she has been carrying out for two
decades.

Georgina is modest, quietly spoken but unmistakably tough. Her advice to thousands of her fellow Londoners is unequivocal: “Our HIV problem is massive. Don't get involved with these sex workers! Don't even go there! And if you do, make sure you've prepared your will.”

Her words of warning may deter some England fans but will do nothing to put off destitute local prostitutes such as Mpho who seek to cash in on a once-in-a-lifetime bonanza.

“Usually I make about R2,000 [£200] a month,” she says, “but during the World Cup I can make R40,000 or R50,000, maybe even R100,000.” She smiles. “I plan to work very hard, understand?”
World Cuppers will be charged the equivalent of £100 for sex, four times the normal rate, she says. “We are organised. We have agreed to hold to this minimum price and not undercut each other.”

If sex workers from other countries do undercut them, things could get nasty, she adds, referring to the 40,000 foreign sex workers who, some government officials believe, are set to arrive from all over Africa.

Together with her 27-year-old friend, Jaqueline, Mpho's plan is to travel the country, loitering around the stadiums and fanparks on match days to sell sex. They are starting with the 20,000-capacity Fields College Fanpark for the England game tomorrow. “We will wear our tightest mini-skirts, our best knee-high boots and our sexiest G-strings because unlike black men in the township who take us as we are,” says Mpho, who's dressed in a body-hugging T-shirt and Lycra shorts, “that is what the English men prefer.”

Mpho has been HIV-positive for four years and normally plies her trade on notorious Heystek Street in Rustenburg and the shantytown tavern known ironically as the “Freedom Park Mall” where her clients are migrant mineworkers.

Sixteen years after apartheid, six million people, mostly illiterate, still live in illegal squatter camps in South Africa, 250,000 of them in the Rustenburg area conveniently out of sight of the stadium and fanpark.

Georgina has set up frontline medical clinics, crèches and skills training centres in three of these squatter camps — Freedom Park, Nkaneng and Siza.

She provides medical aid for more than 45,000 homeless people who have been ignored by the South African government. Her clinics are essentially converted cargo-ship containers and her modus operandi is to train up locals as caregivers and send them on nursing courses to empower them to look after their own. She is unpaid, surviving on donations from family and private philanthropists as well as the British High Commission and the Catholic Church.

Indeed, as England fans stream through Phokeng on Saturday towards the 42,000-capacity stadium, they will pass her mission — Tsholofelo Community — which houses a church (once blown up by the far-Right AWB in the Nineties), an Aids hospice and, poignantly, a graveyard filled with young HIV-positive women less fortunate than Mpho.

Currently Mpho is one of more than 2,000 squatter camp inhabitants being kept alive by Georgina's anti-retroviral drug programme.

Georgina first came to South Africa in 1979 aged 30 and worked as a salaried nursing tutor in the Impala Platinum Mines before leaving to start her mission in a tin shack in 1992.

“I went to Sacred Heart Catholic High School in Hammersmith where I learned that life is about finding your calling — and I found mine here in the squatter camps of South Africa.

“My father died weeks before I was born and I grew up opposite the White City Stadium, in poverty, so I feel a kindred spirit with many of these people” — like Mpho and Jaqueline — “who also lost their parents tragically young.”

It was 10 years ago that she first realised the immensity of the HIV challenge: “An eight-month-old pregnant woman called me to come to her shack where she told me that she was HIV-positive. In those days, the stigma was such that nobody talked about HIV, and an hour later she died. An hour after that, her baby was born dead on the floor of the shack. I was devastated. I'd seen people die before but this was the first time it really hit home what was happening.”

With help from the neighbouring Impala Platinum Mine, Georgina set up a home-based care system and brought in anti-retrovirals, reducing the child death rate from 70 per cent of children to 25 per cent. Still, despite a decade of sex education, 40 per cent of pregnant women in the squatter camps test HIV-positive.

The lure of extra money for “flesh on flesh” sex — without a condom — if demanded by reckless football fans will be hard for many HIV-positive sex workers to resist, she fears, and the consequences of these two worlds colliding for just a few hours is worrying.

“The fans will have no idea of the utterly destitute world these women inhabit and the cocktail of sexually-transmitted diseases they carry,” says Georgina.

Indeed, in a country gripped by World Cup fever, with national flags of 32 competing nations flying from cars and the din of vuvuzela trumpets everywhere, the squatter camp is strikingly devoid of outward manifestations that the country is about to host the World Cup. The only sign is a 2010 football calendar on the wall of Georgina's Siza clinic and a solitary South African flag flying from a shack.

But Georgina doesn't blame the sex workers for dreaming of World Cup glory. “The Government sold the World Cup as a means to uplift the poor but there has been no trickle down. These women have not chosen to be prostitutes. They have been forced into it by poverty, illiteracy and unemployment and by a desperate need to feed themselves and their kids.”

Mpho is emphatic. “I don't like this job,” she says. “I do it to support my 14-year-old son. My dream is to make enough money over the World Cup to buy myself a proper house in a township and get my son into a better school.”

Yet she will not have unprotected sex, she insists, even if the man offers her double. “I could never betray Georgina and what she has taught me. The day I tested positive for HIV was the worst of my life. I was hysterical. Georgina came and said: Don't worry, my little girl, you will be fine'. She got me the drugs. She got me back my life.”

Jaqueline, whose HIV status is unclear because she was not recently tested, is more of a dreamer. “I hope to meet a rich man from England who asks me to marry him. It can happen, you know. When the boys are away from home, they go out to play. And sometimes the gentleman gets so excited he promises you a car, a house, even marriage.” What about the police? She laughs. “They are our clients. As long as we give them sex for free they leave us alone.”

But tomorrow, as always, England expects. The sex workers from the Freedom Park squatter camp, just a 70p taxi ride away from the stadium and fanpark, have similarly high aspirations.

Reader views (12)

 Add your view

"I have not seen much (any) activity from the US media outlets regarding these warnings."

That is because Yanks don't need to be warned not to kill themselves.

- Helldigger, Glendale AZ USA, 12/06/2010 23:50
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We all know HIV is no worse than most STD's but these Phillies will be chock full of both.

Keep your tool in the shed.
Wear a shield if you plan on dunking.
Don't eat at the pit.
Chewing this cud might rot your gut.

- Helldigger, Glendale AZ USA, 12/06/2010 23:47
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A big thank you to all of England’s media outlets that are getting these warnings out. Unfortunately, I have not seen much (any) activity from the US media outlets regarding these warnings. It’s sad that while 99.9% of those who engage the “hospitality workers” services are aware of the hazards, they will none the less do so. If the downstream liability were limited solely to the original customers, I would not be as concerned. Unfortunately, HIV and parallel infections are the gift that keeps on giving. At the end of the day, Miss Mpho’s attitude is one that some will manipulate as an argument to colonize HIV infected persons. Much as was done to lepers previously.

- Robert L, Mid-West, USA, 12/06/2010 17:15
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Dang! You mean there are guys actually desperate enough to "do it" with these lovely honeys?

- Mike55, Georgia, US, 12/06/2010 06:26
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All this goes an' means is that a guy is free as a bird if he just gets his knob bobbed. Long as the girl ain't no biter that breaks skin.

- Dale M Randle aka Randy Randle, Port Huron, Michigan USA, 12/06/2010 02:10
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My book-see below- is now available in left and right handed versions.

- Miguel M, Old Isleworth, England, 11/06/2010 17:20
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What absolute poppycock!..if one of our brave football players or hooligans do have a bit of "hows yer father" with one of these ladies, or men for that matter, a good shower afterwards would suffice to ward of the virus...The S.A Premier said so!!...failing that a visit to vibrant diverse witch doctor will do....

- Terry Davis the guvnor, london east, 11/06/2010 14:05
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Somebody better warn Rooney, then.

- Wispy Wonder, London, 11/06/2010 13:23
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I'm a little slow but if you can provide treatment for aids then why are you not able to provide birth control, in the form of a jab. And why if money is coming into the country because of the world cup, and it has started, the fans are there, then why is their government not able to provide them with enough finance, to not have such a dependancy, or better still why isn't their government more responsible about allowing them such freedom around the fans! Will not stop someone but at least the risks are limited.

Up to them, the NHS is just waiting for their return, they may still be able to afford treatment by then, got your private insurance in place, I hope?

- M, London, 11/06/2010 11:43
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For all football fans may I recommend my guidebook to self abuse ? It is called "In Safe Hands" and is available from all good book shop at only £9-99.
Thousands of satisfied customers have come to love this book.

- Miguel M, Old Isleworth, 11/06/2010 11:31
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Maybe we should force everyone coming back from South Africa to have a health check at the airport before being allowed to re-enter the country. One thing we do not want to import from there is an aids epidemic.

- Mr S.Port, London, 11/06/2010 11:10
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It's a desperate situation. I am glad some in the media are highlighting the depths of poverty within SA. How many multi-millions were spent on this tournament? How many multi-millions spent on poverty alleviation?

- Frank, Home Counties, England, 11/06/2010 10:55
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