The Sex Worker Zine Project Ebook

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THE SEX WORKER ZINE PROJECT Edited by Elsa Oliveira and Jo Vearey

First published 2016 by The MoVE Project African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) University of the Witwatersrand Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND

About the editing process At the start of each workshop, participants had the opportunity to select pseudonyms if they wished. Therefore, names used in this publication are not necessarily the actual names of those involved. All of the participants involved in this project were over the age of eighteen. In this pubication sex work is used to refer to the consensual sale of sex by adults to adults.

This MoVE Project must be credited when shared. The work cannot be changed in any way, and it cannot be used commercially. ISBN 978-0-9946707-4-8

The editors have corrected small typographical errors for the purpose of creating clarity for readers, but the changes have been minimal to ensure that the voice of each author is maintained.

Editors: Elsa Oliveira and Jo Vearey Publication design and exhibition curation: Quinten Edward Williams Printed in South Africa. MoVE MoVE is a project housed at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witswatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Sex Worker Zine Project The project received ethics approval (H15 03 15) from the University of the Witwatersrand Research Ethics Committee (non-medical).

MoVE Social Media

Project Context Elsa Oliveira & Jo Vearey Setting the Scene Elsa Oliveira About the Sex Worker Zine Project

Featured Stories 11

Introduction The Zines


Anna Painful Childhood 28

Kholi Buthelezi & Pamela Chakuvinga Snapping, Writing and Creating: Sisonke’s Involvement in the Sex Worker Zine Project 21


Arnold A Thorn in the Flesh: Mupfa Kha Nama


Joyce Be Strong, Confident, and Survive


Meme Sexy Girl


Muffin Forced Marriage


Poppy A Market Celler: A Battleground about Sex Work and Culture 38


Sakisi A Strong Sex Worker

Freedom Dear Community, I Need A Meeting!


Suzy A Little Girl Who is Facing a lot of Challenges 42

Hla From Zero To Hero


Tendai Sex Work and Health Issues


K.G. Loo It’s About Being Free And Safe To Be Who You Are! We Gay. We Sell Sex. Get Over It! 58

Tshidi Love but Leave Room for Disappointment



Lebo Bad Teacher


Less Hurt By The System


Doe-Doe Don’t Judge Me Just Because I Am A Sex Worker! 50

My Baby I Suffered Until I Got Success


Duladula My Father and Mother Divorced

Nothando An Abused Child


Zodwa Hardship Faced By Villagers 48


Reflections on Process Katlego My Fallen Rose of Red: This is an Untold Story 68

Introduction About the Reflections

Linda My Journey for Money


Elsa Oliveira & Quinten Edward Williams Facilitators’ Notes on the Process 80

Kagee Do You Hear Them Cry South Africa?


Jo Vearey Just Research?


K.G. Loo My Participation in the Zine Project 92

Linda Maghosa’s Pride



Lesley Mntambo Zines Get Conversations Going 94 Linda Hamunyari Dumba Building Solidarity through Partnerships


Moshoula Capous-Desyllas Art and Activism


Project Members Caroline Wanjiku Kihato The Complexities of Identity and Sex Work in Contemporary South Africa: A Reflection on the Sex Worker Zine Project 100

Introduction People and Organisations


Project Participants


Sonia Onufer Corrêa Intersectionality Through the Arts

Project Partners


Project Funders



Susan Williams Zines as Storytelling, Sense-Making, and Influence


Ishtar Lakhani InterSEXtionality in Theory and in Practice


“To generate more complex portrayals of the lives of migrant sex workers, students and researchers at the ACMS are finding different ways of conceptualising, undertaking, and disseminating research related to under-represented migrant groups, including sex workers.�

SETTING THE SCENE Elsa Oliveira PhD candidate, researcher, and co-coordinator of the MoVE Project, African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS)

Jo Vearey Associate Professor and co-coordinator of the MoVE Project, African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS)

“I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of a single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It empasises how we are different rather than how we are similar.” “The single story creates stereotypes,and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009)

If we were to share the stories of our own lives, we would soon acknowledge the multiple and shifting narratives that we use to describe our own lived experiences. It would be much more than a single story and we would need to carefully weave these different narrative threads together. Highlighting the dangers of the single story, Adichie reminds us why we need to move away from the singular and simplistic

stereotypes associated with popular public and political rhetoric(s) that rob individuals of the complexity of their lived experiences. One such stereotype that is well rehearsed in private, public, and policy debates, is that of the migrant. Drawing on popular rhetoric relating to immigration and asylum seeking, the migrant’s singular story is one of an unchallenged negative stereotype: a burden, 11


deviant, a criminal. The result—due to increasing political conservatism, xenophobia, and neoliberalism—is increasingly restrictive immigration policies that threaten the freedoms, opportunities, safety, and well being of people across the globe.

We recognise the importance of engaging with the lived experiences of different migrant groups in order to move away from the single story. To support the development and implementation of appropriate policy, legal, and municipal responses, some students and researchers—at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), University of the Witwatersrand—are exploring different ways of conceptualising, undertaking, and disseminating research relating to migration, sexuality, gender, and health. Asserting the need to move beyond the single story, to involve people and communities within research processes, and to commit to developing ways of co-producing and sharing knowledge through public engagement activities the MoVE (method:visual:explore) project was established in 2014.

Equally stereotyped are the discourses—and policies—linked to sexuality and sexual behaviours, including sex work. Although research clearly links the criminalisation of sex work to increased experiences of human rights violations, stigma, and ill health, the commercial sex industry remains illegal in many countries, including South Africa where all aspects of the selling and buying of sex are criminalised. The current philosophical terrain where issues of migration and sex work are debated has become some sort of ‘moral battleground’, fueling polarised tensions between those who support (or not) progressive legislation governing the movements of people, and the sale of sex. Reflecting on this, some researchers and activists have been calling for the inclusion of those living the debates, in the debates—an attempt to move away from the single story to the complex realities of the lived experiences of migrant sex workers. Much of the information currently circulating on migration and sex work is the result of research work that is done on rather with migrants, sex workers, and/or migrants who sell sex.

The MoVE project aims to: involve the direct participation of migrant groups that are normally excluded, under-represented, and often misrepresented, in mainstream research, policy and public debates; explore the ways that research knowledge and outputs can be co-created between researcher(s) and participant(s); and, share outputs that are produced during the research process that move beyond traditional academic publishing avenues. To date, MoVE projects have involved partnerships with migrants residing in urban informal settlements, with inner-city 12

migrants, with LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees, and with migrant men, women, and transgender persons engaged in the sex industry. Inspired by previous MoVE projects conducted in collaboration between the ACMS and the South African national Sisonke Sex Worker Movement since 2010, this publication showcases the Sex Worker Zine Project. Featuring the zines produced by 24 men, women, and transgender persons who live and sell sex in the Gauteng, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa, this publication includes reflections by participants, civil society activists, and researchers from across the globe. The contributors to this publication challenge the stereotype of the migrant sex worker, calling for a move away from a single, rehearsed story; they challenge us to confront knowledge politics; to (re)consider ways of producing, sharing, and engaging with multiple narratives. We hope that the stories shared through these zines, and the reflections from other contributors, provide opportunities for varied forms of public engagement on issues relating to migration, sex work, and the politics of knowledge, in ways that honour the storyteller, and­— critically—move away from the single story. 13


“While some of the zines focus on trajectories into sex work, many focus on other socially relevant and pressing lived experiences. . .�

ABOUT THE SEX WORKER ZINE PROJECT Elsa Oliveira PhD candidate, researcher, and co-coordinator of the MoVE Project, African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS)

Since 2010, the MoVE (method:visual:explore) Project at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) located at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa has been involved in a range of collaborative arts-based projects in partnership with the South African national Sisonke Sex Worker Movement. The 2015 Sex Worker Zine Project featured in this publication is the latest product of this long-standing partnership.

selected—by sex worker participants for public dissemination.

All of these projects have relied on the use of mixed methods approach—including a range of arts-based methods alongside more traditional qualitative research methods—to explore and share the lived experiences of migrant sex workers in South Africa.

Previous projects include: the 2010 Working the City participatory photography project, the 2013-14 Volume 44 participatory visual and narrative project, and the 2014 Equal Airtime body mapping and narrative writing project. These bodies of work have circulated widely, generating engagement between the producers of the work and different public audiences. Bridging public and private spaces, the work has been exhibited and discussed in local, national, and international forums; in policy dialogues, online and on social media; in various Sisonke-led civil society meetings and initiatives, and in a variety of popular and academic publications.

A central aim of our collaboration has been to generate material that is produced—and

In 2015, the Open Society Foundation (OSF) funded the MoVE Project, in collaboration 15



with the Sisonke Sex Worker Movement, to conduct two new projects: a Gauteng based newsletter project called, Izwi Lethu: Our Voices, and a zine project in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga, South Africa. The Sex Worker Zine Project workshops took place in Makhado (Limpopo) and Nelspruit (Mpumalanga). Each workshop lasted two weeks and included an average of 12 people who either lived in the town where the project was conducted or who travelled from elsewhere in the Province in order to participate. I facilitaed the zine workshops with Quinten Edward Williams, a Johannesburg based artist who had also participated in the 2013 project, and has remained engaged in supporting the work of MoVE – including curating this publication. Linda Monane—a participant of the 2013 Volume 44 project and current Izwi Lethu: Our Voices newsletter reporter—and, Katlego Rasebitse—Advocacy and Media Coordinator, Sisonke Gauteng—were also involved; providing critical insights and support to the workshop process.

Examples of zine cover pages The zine stories feature a wide range of topics that each participant chose to write about.

During the first week of each of the workshops, we took the participants through a variety of multimodal visual and narrative exercises. Storytelling and art making were central to this phase. During the second week of the workshop, participants selected the story or theme that they wanted to focus on for their individual zines. Peer and facilitator support guided the making of each zine. 17


So what are zines?

cultural traditions, family relationships, and a call for the decriminalisation of sex work.

While there are many definitions for what makes a zine, I like how Women Action & the Media explain them:

In the social and political context of South Africa, where sex work is criminalised and heteronormative pressures of conformity prevail, I hope that these zines provide an important intervention to counter the incomplete—and often inaccurate—popular (re)presentations of migrant men, women, and transgender persons who sell sex.

“Zines are self-published works that normally deal with topics that are too controversial or niche for mainstream media. Zines can be created by anyone on any topic; they often employ unpolished designs and layouts and are printed in mass for wide distribution. Zine productions are often popular in ‘underground communities’ that want to share about a particular topic or issue.” Nikko Snyder who writes the ‘good girl’ zine says: “For me, women making zines, or art, or anything else creative is about taking the media back—challenging the bullshit that goes on in the mainstream media, reclaiming public media space, and above all, expressing ourselves creatively. It’s about creating our own spaces where this creative expression is possible, on our own terms.”

Exploring the message through the making Participants often added and removed visual and narrative elements of their zine artwork pages until they felt satisfied with the message that they wanted to convey.

The zines featured in this publication engage with a diverse and complex range of issues. While some of the zines focus on trajectories into sex work, many focus on other socially relevant and pressing lived experiences, such as, infrastructure needs in rural communties, migration histories, 18

“Being able to tell our stories articulately without any fear of reprisals is one of the best ways of empowering ourselves.“



Kholi Buthelezi National Coordinator, Sisonke Sex Worker Movement

Pamela Chakuvinga Assistant National Coordinator, Sisonke National Movement

The Sisonke Sex Worker Movement, first established in 2003, is the only sex worker movement in South Africa that is run by sex workers for sex workers.

impact our everyday well-being. A core motto of Sisonke is nothing about us without us. However, the lives, experiences, and realities of sex workers across the globe are often represented by those who are not sex workers themselves. Therefore, it is important and necessary that we as sex workers speak for ourselves and that when discussions about sex workers take place that we are included in the conversations and debates.

The central aims of the movement are: to support and create solidarity amongst sex workers, to advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa, and to bring attention to the human rights violations that sex workers routinely face. In order to accomplish these things, Sisonke strives to equip sex workers with the necessary skills to take control of issues that 21


Thirteen years after Sisonke was formed, we can proudly say that we have stuck to our ideals.

Sisonke has been involved in this collaboration with the ACMS because we see how each project has made a positive impact on the participating sex workers’ self-esteem and confidence. For some, their participation has unveiled hidden talents, whereas others simply enjoy the newly acquired skill sets that they can use to express themselves.

In order for our movement to grow we must ensure that we as Sisonke members—people who sell sex—are supported and encouraged to share our views and experiences relating to our lives and the worlds that we live in. Being able to tell our stories articulately without any fear of reprisals is one of the best ways of empowering ourselves.

Through involvement in these projects, many have not only learned skills but they have also gained new confidence levels that are enabling them to apply for jobs that they might not have otherwise felt they could do.

Since 2010, Sisonke has been involved in collaborations with the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) at Wits University. During this time, our members have participated in photo projects, in body mapping and narrative writing projects, and in the more recent zine project.

As a hugely marginalised group in our country, sex workers often come from impoverished backgrounds where tertiary or even secondary schooling, is seen as a luxury. Very few of us have been able to enjoy this luxury. Although there are many educated people who sell sex—people who did not enter sex work because they were living in poverty—the reality is that many, actually most of us, enter this industry because we needed to feed ourselves and our families. However, it is important to note that while we may have entered sex work because we were living in poverty, our lives have greatly improved as a result of our involvement in sex work. Not only do we feed and clothe our families, many of us have also built homes for our families and most of us send our kids to private schools through our sex work earnings.

These projects are the fruition of hard work, long hours, and dedication by sex workers, researchers, and the facilitation team. With the continued mentorship and guidance from the ACMS, newly empowered sex workers have been taking to the streets of South Africa. Armed with cameras, notebooks, and pens, Sisonke members are snapping, writing, and creating our own representations. In doing so, we are providing the general population of this country a glimpse of life seen, perceived, and, experienced through the lens of sex workers’ themselves. Like the proverbial saying goes—straight from the horse’s mouth. 22

The current criminalisation laws against sex work in South Africa harm those of us who are working hard to put food on the table. These laws prevent us from safely filing police reports when our human rights are violated and pose barriers to us when we are trying to access safe health.

defenders, to health and legal partners, and to the general public, we are not only showcasing our capabilities and potential, we are also using our voices and the material that we are producing as an opportunity to foster new and improved relationships and partnerships with our neighbours and with the community as a whole.

The stigma of sex work must stop! Thank you for taking the time to mentor and empower us and for helping us to become more independent individuals as we contribute to build a bigger and better Sisonke.

We don’t deserve to be harassed, assaulted, violated, or killed because of what we do to earn an income. We don’t harm anyone because of the work that we do! We don’t deserve to be discriminated against because we sell sex. We have the right to dignity and safety. We ask you to fight for the decriminalisation of sex work and to support all efforts to make this happen. This collaboration has really helped Sisonke realise the idea of strengthening the movement. By offering sex workers an opportunity to learn new skills, by creating safe spaces where we can voice our particular concerns and experiences, and through supporting us to make our work public so that increased understandings, acceptance, and tolerance of sex work might happen. When we distribute the zines produced by our members at our meetings, at local and international conferences, to our current and potential funders, to human rights 23


FEATURED STORIES “We have so many stories and you can see from this work that we don’t always want to talk about our work as sex workers. We have other things that are important to us.” Less, Nelspruit, Mpumalanga participant

“While some of the zines include personal accounts of difficult childhoods and migration journeys, others include testimonies of resistance to gendered and cultural norms.�


This section features the zines that were created by 24 migrant men, women, and transgender persons who sell sex in the Gauteng, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa.

The zines featured in this publication were made using a variety of art materials and processes, including cut-outs from magazines, drawings, printed text, painting and hand written stories. The zines communicate powerful stories and ideas.

Zines can be about anything and everything. While some of the zines in this publication include personal accounts of difficult childhoods and migration journeys, others include testimonies of resistance to gendered and cultural norms. Many shed light on the experiences of selling sex, calling for the decriminalisation of sex work, and the need for sensitisation efforts in order to reduce the stigmas often associated with their work and/or nationality. Collectively, the zine-stories share testimonies of love, heartache, survival, and pride.

While hard copies of the zines are available, you can also view them online on the MoVE Project Issuu page.



Painful Childhood Anna Makhado Participant

Hello, My name is Anna and I am from a village in the western area of the small town of Makhado located in Limpopo, South Africa. I am a single mother of one boy. I want to tell you about my life because when I was young my mother passed away and then my father married another wife who was so evil. I thought that she was my mother until my young sister started school and I was not going to school. I was a maid in my father’s house and that is when I discovered that she was not my real mother.




A Thorn in the Flesh: Mupfa Kha Nama Arnold Makhado Participant

Hello, My name is Arnold and I am a 23-year-old gay sex worker. I am from a very rural area in Limpopo (South Africa). I am very angry about the stigma and discrimination that gay sex workers like me face. I want to tell you that gay sex workers face many challenges. People call us names and we are not accepted in society. Some gay sex workers have depression and many have even committed suicide because of such bad treatment. In this zine, you will learn about being a gay sex worker. Me being a sex worker is my choice and no one should judge me.




Be Strong, Confident, and Survive Joyce Makhado Participant

Hallo! My name is Joyce. I am the first born in a family of five people: one young sister and three young brothers. I am a single mother of one beautiful daughter. I want to tell you about the challenges that I have faced with my family. In this zine, you will learn more about my life; about how my stepfather chased me out of my home; how I became homeless and about how I had to drop out of school as a result. You will also learn that this experience led me to sex work. I think this is important because there are many people in this world who face challenges and I know that I am not the only one who has survived difficulties in life. My hope is that if someone who reads this zine has experienced something like me that they will not feel alone. If you have confidence you can survive.




Sexy Girl Meme Makhado Participant

Hello, My name is Meme. I am from a beautiful Venda village that my family has lived in for hundreds of years, in the Limpopo province. I am a mother of two very nice and educated boys. I want to tell you about how I became HIV positive. I think that this is important because too many people are getting infected because they don’t have knowledge about prevention. I hope that you like my zine.




Forced Marriage Muffin Makhado Participant

Hello! My name is Muffin. I am from the first village south of Thouyandou: a town in the Limpopo province of South Africa. I am a beautiful, charming, and loveable mother of five. I want to tell you about my forced marriage. In this zine, I will share what this meant for my life and where it has taken me. Just because of money my mother forced me to get married.




A Market Celler: A Battleground about Sex Work and Culture Poppy Makhado Participant

Hallo, My name is Poppy. I am a 32-year-old mother of one beautiful and ever-smiling 14-yearold girl. I am from a rural village outside of Thouyandou in the beautiful not rich province of Limpopo, South Africa.

I think that this is important because people in the community call me names and make me feel uncomfortable. I am living under pressure so I need to hide myself because of the tradition and the laws that criminalise sex work.

This story is about my sex work and tradition as a black African Venda woman. I was born and raised in a rural area. I know my tradition very well and the consequences of breaking the customary law. Sex work is taboo in our Province. Different types of abuse happen at our working places. People call us very bad names like magosha, hule, and many more. I want to tell you about sex work and culture and the challenges that sex workers face on the street because of the stigma and discrimination of my work.




A Strong Sex Worker Sakisi Makhado Participant

Hello. My name is Sakisi Nhenga, and I am a mother of two. I stay in Makahdo: a town in Limpopo, South Africa. I am from Masvingo, Zimbabwe. I want to tell you about my life as a sex worker. I want everyone to know sex work is a dangerous job. We work with different men and some are robbers, killers, and ‘totsis’. In this zine, you will learn a lot about me.




A Little Girl Who is Facing a lot of Challenges Suzy Makhado Participant

Hello, My name is Suzy. I am from a beautiful small village outside of Makhado in Limpopo, South Africa. I am a mother of two children: one son and one daughter. I want to tell you about the abuse that I faced in my childhood. This abuse was the hardest thing that I have had to live with. I want to share my story of survival with people in the world so that it can help others that experience the same challenges as me. IÂ want people to know that they are not alone and that they are not the only people who are living with this horrible experience. IÂ also want abuse to stop. In this zine, you will learn about an abused girl with no one to tell. My story is important because some kids who are abused end up killing themselves because they have no one to share their pain with and this is not okay.




Sex Work and Health Issues Tendai Makhado Participant

Hello, My name is Tendai. I am originally from Gweru, a city in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe. I am writing as a site coordinator for the Red Umbrella Project in Makhado: a town in the Limpopo province of South Africa that I have been living in since 2014. In this capacity, I work with sex workers and advocate for their human rights needs, including health access. I am very frustrated with health care providers. Most of them don’t treat sex workers with dignity. They stigmatise sex workers when they go to the clinic; they give paracetomol (aspirin) instead of antibiotics when they have an STI (sexually transmitted infection). Some of the sex workers are now defaulting on their ART (anti-retroviral therapy) treatment because they are afraid of being stigmatised by health workers. In this zine, you will learn about the importance of treating sex workers with dignity. This is important because it can help with the fight against HIV. And, importantly, it is a human rights issue. 44



Love but Leave Room for Disappointment Tshidi Makhado Participant

My name is Tshidi. I am from the small town of Biaba on the outskirts of Makhado, also known as Louis Trichardt in the Limpopo province of South Africa. I want to tell you my story about how I was betrayed by a man that I had given my heart to. In this zine, you will learn about love and betrayal.




Hardship Faced by Villagers Zodwa Makhado Participant

My name is Zodwa. I am a 34-year-old woman from Gootpan: a very small rural South African town on the border of Botswana. I want to tell you about this place— Gootpan—where I come from. I want the government to help address the needs of the community. There is a shortage of water and electricity; the roads are not tarried, and there is no public transport available. In this zine, you will learn about life in the village and the challenges of not having water, and everything else. I think that this is important because the government has to know about the villages that are outside of cities. People are suffering in these places. We are all South Africans and we deserve to have better living conditions.




Don’t Judge Me Just Because I Am A Sex Worker! Doe-Doe Nelspruit Participant

Hi Readers! I am Doe-Doe Shy. I am a mother of three kids and I live in Mpumalanga—a South African province that shares a border with Mozambique and Swaziland. I am not working now. I am a tall and dark beautiful lady, and I am a peaceful woman. I speak Siswati and English. I like myself and I am proud of what I do. In this zine, I am going to tell you about the judgment of sex workers. Many people call sex workers many bad names but people who sell sex are human beings who deserve to be respected. I think that this is important because most people don’t know about our lives and if you don’t know then you can never understand what we face and why we do what we do.




My Father and Mother Divorced Duladula Nelspruit Participant

Hi everyone, My name is Duladula. I am a tall and fat 34-year-old Swazi speaking single mother of a beautiful daughter. I am strong and hard working. I am beautiful. And I am a sex worker. In this zine, I am going to tell you about growing up in many houses and how living in a home with a loveless stepmother caused me much pain and struggle. I am going to tell you how my father failed me because he never believed me, instead he believed his wife and this was too painful for me. I think this is important for you to learn about because too many children suffer like me and they have no one in their lives to protect and teach them.




Dear Community, I Need A Meeting! Freedom Nelspruit Participant

My name is Freedom. I live in a small village in the rural Mpumalanga province of South Africa. I was born in Gauteng: the province where the City of Gold, Johannesburg, lives. I am a strong and clever 31-year-old woman. I am dark and beautiful and I love the way that I am. I am a mother and sister of three women. I am a hard working sex worker. In this zine, you will learn about how my community calls me bad names. My community must know the good things about me so that they can stop calling me the wrong names. I think that this is important because these bad names are not good for me or for my children. I will never give up on life. Never. Never. But the community must stop with their nonsense.




From Zero To Hero Hla Nelspruit Participant

Hi. My name is Hla. I am special. I am a human being. I am a mother of a 4-year-old girl. I am a sister, aunty, and a friend. I am creative. I do woolen shoes. I speak four languages. I am black; dark in completion and I love my skin colour. I am in love with my life. I am a fighter and a winner and I am me.




It’s about Being Free and Safe to be Who You Are! We Gay. We Sell Sex. Get Over It! K.G. Loo Nelspruit Participant

My name is K.G Loo. I am from a small town outside of White River in Mpumalanga, South Africa. I am an MSM (man who sleeps with men) and I am a sex worker. I am very powerful and confident about the work and things that I do. I want to share with the world about the dangers that we go through as sex workers on the street. I also want to share with the sex workers about the ways that we can protect ourselves. In this zine, you will learn about the importance of being a safe sex worker and you will learn ways that can help to protect you.




Bad Teacher Lebo Nelspruit Participant

You can talk what you want, say what you want, you are not gonna change me ‘cause this is who I am. This is who I am. This is who I am.

It was a hurtful, painful, stressful, and depressive time in my life. I didn’t enjoy matric like the other kids. I was harassed by a teacher and this person made my life hell. So much so that I didn’t pass matric the way that I expected myself to. I could have had better scores if I wasn’t under so much stress.

Hi readers… I’m Lebo. I am a gay guy who is proud of herself. I am a humble person who is always happy. I love music and I love to dance. I come from the Freestate province in South Africa but now I live in Mpumalanga. I want to tell you about the story of my life as a student.

I am happy that I am out of that school now. I don’t have stress or hurt. I enjoy my life.

From the time that I was very little I always liked wearing girls clothes. And, it was not a problem. Until I attended Ithabiseng Secondary School no one cared about the way that I dressed. I like wearing earrings, weaves, and mini skirts. But, when I started matric at the age of sixteen, things became challenging.




Hurt by the System Less Nelspruit Participant

Hi South African Police services, My name is Less. I am a social activist; godfather, brother, grandson, service provider for pleasure seekers, and a comforter. I come from a small town called Malelane in Mpumalanga, South Africa. This town is on the border of the majestic Kruger National Park and Swaziland and Mozambique.

In this zine, you will learn why it is important for you (South African Police service providers) to serve equally and lesson the secondary victimisation experienced by sex workers. As well as protect the fundamental human rights of all South African citizens.

I want to tell you about the cruelty and human rights violations that you are committing as police towards certain key populations, such as sex workers, transgender people, and gay people. What happened to your slogan, which says that you serve to protect? My expectation is that you are required to unilaterally target offenders. Or, is there a higher victimisation risk in places where a person is a sex worker and trans? Why are you treating sex workers and transgender people in a more severe and inhuman way? What is it about us that bothers you so much?




I Suffered Until I Got Success My Baby Nelspruit Participant

Hi everyone My name is My Baby. I am a beautiful and strong Zulu woman. I come from Mpumalanga­— a rural province in South Africa. I am a sister of three. I am also an orphan that loves to listen to gospel music. I want to tell you how I became a sex worker. After a big tragedy in my life, I needed to find a way to feed myself, and my family. I think that this is important because I am not a sex worker for fun. I am doing this because I need to live and survive. In this zine, you will learn that sex work made my life better.




An Abused Child Nothando Nelspruit Participant

Hi—my name is Nothando. I am a strong and hard-working woman. I have two children. I am proud of my life. I come from a small town in Mpumalanga, South Africa. I want to tell you about how I got into sex work and how I have made a good life for myself. Through sex work I have built a house for myself and I help my family. In this zine, you will learn a little about my life and what made me go into sex work. I will also tell you about how important it is for sex workers to use their money to help themselves by saving and building a house. I think that this is important because no matter what someone goes through there are ways to free yourself from abuse and become independent.




My Fallen Rose of Red: This is an Untold Story Katlego Makhado Assistant Facilitator and Johannesburg Participants

My name is Katlego. I am from the Northwest province from a town called Kleksdorp. I am the last-born child in a family of six: two girls and three boys. I want to tell you about the grief that I experienced after the death of my mother; whom I deeply loved. In this zine, you will learn how I coped with the pain and the loneliness after she left me and how I survived the trauma. I think that this is important because everyone experiences loss and in my community we don’t talk about this often. Hopefully my story will help someone, anyone—anywhere—that has lost a family member, a friend or a spouse.




My Journey for Money Linda Makhado Assistant Facilitator and Johannesburg Participants

Hello. My name is Linda Nduna. I am a mother of two and sister of six. I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and lived there until I was 20-years-old. I am currently living in the City of Gold—Johannesburg, South Africa. I want to tell you about how and why I came to South Africa. I have faced a lot of challenges in my life that led me to move to South Africa. In this zine, you are going to learn about my journey to South Africa. It was not an easy one. It’s important that you learn how migrants suffer when they move from their countries of origin to another country in search of greener pastures. It was not because I didn’t want to stay in my country but because of poverty. I want to be with my family but I also have to take care of them.




Do You Hear Them Cry South Africa? Kagee Nelspruit Assistant Facilitator and Johannesburg Participants

In this zine, will learn how police profile sex workers, including special ways of profiling transgender and non-national migrant sex workers. You will learn how police unlawfully arrest sex workers, detain them for longer periods of time than others sex workers, and how they refuse them basic human rights when they are arrested.

Hello… My name is Kagee R. I am a 29-year-old male sex worker from Carltonville, Gauteng (South Africa). I have been working as a sex worker for 15 years. During this time I have experienced a lot of different forms of abuse. The abuse that I want to focus on in this zine is the abuse made by those in positions of power.

My hope is that you learn something that you didn’t know before—sex worker, or not.

I want to tell you how police abuse their power; how medical treatment staffs abuse their power; how brothel owners and hotel managers abuse their power; how clients abuse their power; and how society sometimes abuses its power.

Human Rights ARE Human Rights and sex workers are human!

It is important for me to share this with you because many people don’t understand how power and abuse are connected. Another reason that this is important, is because there are many sex workers out there that do not know their human rights and this zine will provide some information on sex worker HUMAN rights.




Maghosa’s Pride Linda Nelspruit Assistant Facilitator and Johannesburg Participants

My name is Linda and I am a mother of two boys. I come from Zimbabwe. I want to tell you about what is happening in the sex work industry. I think that this is important because it’s going to help other sex workers, both young and old, and those who want to join this industry. In this zine, you will learn that sex worker is a human being: a mother who is sending her kids to school.




RELECTIONS ON PROCESS “We don’t have the opportunity to tell our stories. We are busy and we just live with this inside of us. Being able to use art has helped me. I forgot how to colour and paint. This is what I did when I was a child. But here I see that it can help us to make art and to write and to tell stories. We have so many things that we want to say and the world needs to hear more about us because we matter.“ Linda, former Volume 44 participant from Johannesburg and assistant facilitator and participant in both zine workshops.

“Importantly, the reflections acknowledge the zines and their production as an important avenue for the communication of knowledge, and as a form that can facilitate various public engagement opportunities.�


The following section presents diverse reflections on the work that has been shared in this publication, including the perspectives of sex worker participants who produced the zines, and contributions from researchers and activists who have engaged with the zines and the processes involved in their production.

development of engaged scholarship and advocacy methodologies. Importantly, the reflections acknowledge the zines and their production as an important avenue for the communication of knowledge, and as a form that can facilitate various public engagement opportunities.

Collectively, these contributions articulate the multiple and intersecting ways in which the zine project supports the production and dissemination of insights into the lived experiences of migrant sex workers in the Gauteng, Limpopo, and Mpumalanga provinces of South Africa. These reflections outline the different ways that this approach­— a partnership between a national sex worker movement and a research centre—contributes to the 79


Facilitators’ Notes on the Process Elsa Oliveira PhD candidate, researcher, and co-coordinator of the MoVE Project, African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS)

Quinten Edward Williams Artist and researcher, the MoVE Project, African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS)

When you engage with a completed body of work—such as the zines included in this publication—it’s easy to forget the amount of time involved in its making. The zines shared here took time to make; time was invested by facilitators and participants in their planning, making, and distribution.

We spent a lot of time before the actual workshops discussing how to approach the workshops as spaces of opportunity for participants—in this case, migrants who sell sex—to share their stories. We wanted to find a way to create a workshop space that was conducive to telling stories, and ultimately, to choosing a story and focusing on its development in order to create a message for a wider public audience. We wanted to approach the workshops in ways that could respond to the storytelling needs of participants.

Planning for the zines We wanted the zines to tell stories; stories that could be shared with multiple audiences in ways that would generate engagement with— and, perhaps, counter prevailaing popular assumptions about—the lived experiences of migrants who sell sex in South Africa.

The Sunday before the first workshop, we travelled from Johannesburg to Makhado with a car filled to the brim with workshop materials. We unloaded the car, set up the space, and had a bit of rest, very aware that the next day the workshop would begin, and based on our previous experiences, that our facilitation plans would likely need to be

To effectively facilitate the creation of the zines, we had to be sure that the process of their making would be sensitive to various design principles. The zines had to be visually appealing (in order to facilitate public engagement) but we did not want to approach visual literacy education through a traditional form. Instead, we wanted to engage in visual literacy training in an involved and participatory way—through processes of storytelling, discussion, and art-making.

Art techniques The zines were made by tearing, cutting, drawing, painting, layering, tracing, and writing. 80



adapted to meet the expectations and needs of participants.

of the workshop: living, working, creating, and socialising together.

Making the zines The zine workshops involved a range of activities that aimed to support a storytelling process. Each participant had the opportunity to reflect on aspects of their life and to tell their chosen story through different art-making processes.

The days always started with a communal breakfast; this was especially important as participants who lived nearby didn’t stay at the venue—sharing breakfast offered us some social time together before launching into yet another day of activities. On each day of the first week of the workshop, participants were given open-ended questions in the form of writing exercises. They were invited to use these questions as starting points to write about different—sometimes fictionalised—aspects of their lives: past, present, and future. Some participants shared these stories with the group, but many did not. The writing process helped participants unlock

The day-long workshops (9am-4pm) were held over an intense two week period with participants brought together for the duration. Since some participants would be travelling long distances, we decided to hold the workshops at venues with accommodation. Those of us who had travelled a long way stayed together for the duration 82

stories that they could explore further through the art-making processes. During this first week, participants were given the opportunity to experiment with different ways of sharing their stories—through drawing, painting, collage, and photography— in the form of what we called expression pages. As the week progressed, we began to place an emphasis on the layering of these different working methods, and the relationship between image and text to make meaning. At the end of the first week, participants identified the story that they wanted to share with a wider public in the format of a zine. At the beginning of the second week, we supported the participants in planning the flow of their stories. This involved assigning page numbers to what would eventually become the zine artwork pages. This process, however, was not without its challenges. In Makhado—the first zine workshop we facilitated—we were not entirely sure about the timing of activities: we were teasing out a process and learning as we went, facilitators as much as participants. Our schedule was open to daily—and even hourly—adjustments as we tracked the process of zine making.

Planning zine pages Each participant was given a blank booklet to plan out their story sequence according to page numbers. The facilitators lead a group discussion aiming to support participants with this process. Although some worked quite closely with the intitial page orderings, many shifted or changed aspects of their stories while making the zine pages.

When it was time to facilitate the second workshop in Nelspruit it became easier to see which activities would enable participants to focus on the making of their zine story, and in particular, the timing of these activities. Importantly, at the start of the Nelspruit 83


workshop, we could share example zines from the Makhado workshop as a reading and interpreting activity. This enabled participants to see and touch zines, to describe them, to make connections through story, and, importantly, have examples of how stories made public might read whilst the author remained anonymous. A notable difference between the two workshops is that in the Nelspruit workshop the participants were able to start working on their stories for public by the end of the first week; a faster process than in the initial workshop. We attribute this to the lessons we learned about the zine making process in the first workshop, and to having the zines from Makhado to share as tangible examples with participants in Nelspruit.

laughter amongst the group), conversations between participants were minimal during the second week of the workshop. Working fervously to complete their zines—each with their own style of making and telling—participants tore, cut, drew, painted, layered, and traced; they reviewed, edited, and changed their zine artwork pages until they felt satisfied with what they wanted to create, tell, and share in their zines. At the end of each day, the workshop floor was covered with scraps of paper, dust from pastels and charchoal, markers, glue sticks, pencils, and candy wrappers: a testimony of the creative explosion that accompanied the making of the zines.

In both workshops, the second week was an intensive work period as the zine making process unfolded: participants wrote their story out and then found ways for their image making to help tell their story. This art making process—a mediation between image, text, ideas, and lived experiences—extended and changed the participants’ stories in unanticipated ways. The zine making process that was undertaken by each participant during the second week, albeit more focussed on an end product of zine artwork pages than the first week’s expression pages, continued to be a vibrant and explorative undertaking.

From previous experience, we knew that the last day of the workshop was going to be emotional. The group had spent two weeks together learning and telling stories, reflecting on our lives, and our communities. As the project facilitators, we regonised that ‘closing’ the workshop was just as important, if not more so, as our efforts in ‘opening’ the workshop. We knew that we needed to celebrate the achivements of each participant and to honour the new friendships and bonds that had been formed between everyone involved. So, we decided to hold a ‘private exhibition’; an approach that had been perceived as positive during previous projects.

With the exception of music playing in the background, and the occassional sing along to a favorite song (often sparking dance and

Gathered around in a circle, on the final day of each workshop, participants took turns presenting their work. Laying out their 84

zine pages onto the clean workshop floor, participants had the opportunity to read their stories to the group. While all chose to read their stories, some offered only a brief background to their zines. Most, however, pre-empted their readings with additional information that was not included in their zines. These were personal stories and experiences, chosen to be shared only within the closed, private workshop space; these were not shared in the zines—they were not for public consumption. Offering further insights into their lived experiences, the lenghtier introductions offered by many of the participants spoke directly to a range of political, emotional, and psychological factors associated with the telling of stories and the processes of making the zines.

Getting messy After a day’s work making zine pages the workshop floor would be covered with scraps of paper and bits of art materials. Before closing each day, people worked together, cleaning up the space in order to get it ready for the next day.

Participant reflections of their involvement in the project were often weaved into their zine work presentations. Accompanied by re-enactments of personal experiences and impressions during the workshops—often triggering contagious laughter amongst the group, including personal accounts of confusion during the initial days of the workshop—these presentations not only celebratated their final zines; they also recognised the process of making, both as individuals and as a collective. Some described their participation in the workshop as one associated with a healing process; others felt they had gained a renewed sense of strength. While a few participants 85


Zine launch exhibition The Sex Worker Zine Project was featured in the MoVE Showcasing of New Work exhibition held at the Workers’ Museum in March 2016. In addition to original A3 zine pages and final A5 public zines, the exhibition displayed the zine art work folders that were used as portfolios during the workshops.




expressed hesitations regarding their decision to share previously untold stories with public audiences through their zines, all expressed pride in what they had achieved. It was clear that there was excitement about their own participation within an initiative that has provided participants—in this case, migrant sex workers—with a platform through which they can build solidarity and tell their own stories in powerful ways that ensure their anonymity.

audience who could learn from the stories in the zines. The stories participants shared were responsive to their lived experiences within particular communities; participants wanted to distribute their zines in these spaces—spaces that resonated with the content of their zines. The anonymity that is built into the project—through the use of pseudonyms and the responsible use of images—enabled participants to speak up about situations affecting their communities without compromising their own safety. Each participant received a stack of zines to distribute as they wanted.

Each workshop involved two very intense weeks, for participants and facilitators alike. However, the flexibiility of our workshop structure—and the dedication, courage, and ingenuity of the participants in their image-text explorations—enabled powerful visual stories to emerge.

The zines have also been included in other more formal events. The zines were shared during a two-month public exhibition held at the Workers’ Museum (Johannesburg) that featured the zine project alongside other MoVE projects. This exhibition was important because we wanted to give an audience that is interested in the lives of workers access to participants’ stories and their voice around specific social issues. The zines were also shared during an impromptu parade through the streets of Johannesburg that was organised by members of Sisonke. Hard copies of the zines have also been disributed during Sisonke outreach campaigns and at meetings with various stakeholders as activism tools, and at events exploring both arts-based methods and the experiences of migrant sex workers in South Africa, Brasil, Austria, the USA and the UK. Copies of the zines were also distributed at at the 2016 International AIDS Society

The original zine pages were made on A3 cardstock paper. These pages were photographed and the images were then desaturated and collated into pdf documents that were printed as A5 booklets. Using participant selected coloured paper for the front and back covers of each zine, the printing made use of an affordable grayscale digital photocopying process. This approach allowed for the zines to be copied in large numbers. Distributing the Zines A few participants identified specific people with whom they wanted to share their zines. Most participants, however, wanted their zines to be read by a larger 88

conference in Durban, South Africa (July 2016).

Presenting the story On the last day of each workshop, participants took turns laying out their zine pages and presenting their stories to the group.

E-versions of the zines are available on the MoVE project’s Issuu page, where they can be shared, read online, downloaded, and printed for free. We invite you to spend time with the zines. Page through them; look, read, and interpret. Learn from the stories the participants in the Sex Worker Zine Project wanted to share with you. 89


Just Research? Jo Vearey Associate Professor and co-coordinator of the MoVE Project, African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS)

The work shared in this publication reflects the combined and collective efforts of many individuals, in very different ways: people who sell sex; migrants; sex workers; researchers; students; activists; allies; facilitators; artists; advocates; funders; writers; curators; editors. These are not discrete, stand-alone labels—all involved in the project represent different combinations of these diverse, intersecting, and everchanging categories. Regardless of how we do (or don’t) identify, our roles are fluid, continuously shifting across both time and place. We are constantly moving between our public and private lives—both physically and emotionally; from our respective workplaces, into a zine workshop, across to a policy dialogue, onto a funding meeting, through to an international conference, over to an artist’s studio, back to—and often between—our homes. We are continuously engaging in different ways with, and for, different audiences: writing for a sex worker newsletter, talking to a client, supporting a bail application, updating social media, sending money home, creating an art work, drafting a submission to parliament, recording police abuses, curating an exhibition for an international conference, phoning family,

getting ready for work, producing a blog post, revising a journal article, ‘whatsapping’ a friend, co-creating an opinion piece, responding to enquiries from the media, paying our rent. We do not physically share the same spaces at all times, and we do not share the same lived experiences; we’re all—necessarily—different. What does unify us, however, is a shared commitment to addressing social justice. In this case, justice for South African and cross-border migrants who are engaged in the selling of sex. This is an important livelihood strategy that—due to its criminalisation in South Africa—is associated with multiple, intersecting injustices resulting from both direct and structural violence. Whether direct violence—at the hands of the police, a client, or a family member—or structural violence—resulting from the policies and attitudes that criminalise and stigmatise sex work—these experiences are bravely and carefully articulated in the zines shared here. Those who are engaging with this work will, like those of us involved in its production, reflect many different views and experiences. 90

Perhaps some are sex workers and/or migrants from South Africa and beyond who relate to the stories shared here. Some may be curious about how and why some migrants sell sex, or they may support the decriminalisation of sex work and are looking for further evidence to support their cause. Some will be opposed to the idea of sex work but recognise that, when opportunities are limited, this is an important livelihood opportunity for many and that we need to work collectively to address the injustices shared here. Others may remain opposed to sex work and wish to further securitise migration but may come away with new insights and understandings of the injustices experienced by those who move and sell sex. Maybe some are researchers and students who are looking for different ways of producing, sharing, and communicating knowledge. Regardless, I hope that all who interact with this work come away with a clearer understanding of the ways that research processes can support, and contribute to the multiple agendas and needs of those working to address social (in)  j ustice.

of research approaches that more effectively address concerns of social justice. We need to do things differently. We must move away from ways of just doing research to ways of ensuring justice within research—both within the research process itself and in the ways our research is shared and engaged. This requires those of us who identify (or who are identified as) researchers to be aware of our other identities, and to find ways of ensuring that our research practice contributes beyond the immediate needs of the academy. To do this not only requires us to maintain the rigour of quality, ethical scholarship—and our associated obligations thereof, including the training of postgraduate students and continued production of evidence—but to also (re)engage as allies and advocates. This is not something that is (currently) taught; our research practice, however, can—and should—help us to better support students and colleagues in developing and implementing approaches to strengthen justice in research.

I, like others involved in this project, am committed to supporting the development 91


My Participation in the Zine Project K.G. Loo Mpumalanga participant and Sisonke member

My experience in this project was very good. Even though it was a lot of work, I really enjoyed being part of the project. For me (and, I think for everyone who participated) the most challenging aspect of the project was that we had to create, develop, and design our zines in only two weeks. None of us at the workshop had ever created a zine (much less knew what a zine even was) so it took some time for us to understand. But Elsa and Quinten were there to help and guide us. We trusted them. During the first week of the workshop, we learned how to use paints, pens, collage, tracing, and other creative methods, including writing. Everyday we created stories using these techniques; we practiced and practiced. We explored telling stories with art and for me this was a new experience. And it was so powerful! These exercises were meant to help us think about story making and how to use art to tell our stories. Elsa didn’t ask anyone to write about sex work. She said that each person could decide on the story or stories that they wanted to ‘share with the world’. Yet, most of us shared personal stories that were linked directly 92

to our experiences and involvement in sex work. This is because there is a need for more information about sex work that is produced by sex workers.

result of my participation and my positive experiences of being part of this project. I believe that there is a lot of important information that sex workers can offer others in the industry; information that no one else knows or understands like we do.

In my zine, I shared a sad story about an MSM (men who have sex with men) sex worker friend of mine who was killed after the client found out that he was a man. My zine offers important advice for everyone who sells sex, especially MSM and/or trans sex workers; advice that can help keep them safe. Clients abuse many sex workers and sometimes the abuse happens because sex workers are not honest with their clients. Some sex workers take advantage of clients and/or do not disclose their gender upfront and this is a big risk. It is important for sex workers to be honest and to take all the steps possible in order to avoid being abused and killed like my friend. We need more of these projects so that we can tell our stories. After creating my zine, I now want to write my own book: a book that focuses on how sex workers should treat their clients. This inspiration and interest to write more is a 93


Zines Get Conversations Going Lesley Mntambo Sisonke Member and Mpumalanga participant

Passing information to the general public has seen a shift towards the digital; people access information from the comfort of their fingertips. And while this can mean that more people have access to material otherwise unavailable, the challenge is that the creation, storage, and referencing of this information is often distorted and/or unreliable. I have been involved in various social activism and advocacy campaigns for many years, including sensitisation efforts focused on human rights issues. One of the greatest challenges for activists like me is figuring out ways to engage people in discussions. Often, people are uninterested in discussing topics and/or events they perceive as irrelevant to their own lives. Engagement becomes even more difficult when access to material and information is limited. In this case, access challenges include a lack of access to digital spaces, such as the Internet, or a lack of access to material that is approachable, tangible, and/ or understandable. One alternative to traditional outputs is the zine. To me, a zine is a depiction (a short literary documentary) of a certain topic, 94

Zines are tools to get the conversation going at a personal and societal level.

event and/or occurrence in a person’s life. This method of communication showcases a more solid and truthful story. Through a zine, the reader is able to engage with the author at an emotional and personal level. This is because a zine is not edited. It’s raw and it’s not digitalised, as compared to your mainstream publications.

I am very proud to have been a part of this project.

Zines, like those in The Sex Worker Zine Project, often contain socio-economic outpours by the authors that focus on human rights issues, specifically in relation to domestic violence, domestic instability, poverty, sexuality, and police brutality. In this way, the zines can be imagined as the ‘middle way’ between understanding and criticism, law-making and legislation, poverty and wealth. The zines in this book contain stories meant for all readers, provoking formal and informal dialogues. They can also be widely distributed across a range of community and social platforms such as: universities, research institutes, community based organisations, health care offices, police stations, train stations, airports, and border posts.



Building Solidarity through Partnerships Linda Hamunyari Dumba Limpopo Provincial Coordinator, Sisonke Sex Worker Movement

The Sex Worker Zine Project was once again a time when sex workers came together with the support of the ACMS in a creative way. This time, participants were encouraged to explore their lives and develop a zine about a topic that they wanted to share with the world. The zine making process started slowly. Some were reluctant to use art as a way to think about their lives but at the end of the workshop all shared excitmenent about the process. Participants shared feelings of happiness and joy at being able to re-visit their childhood days of playing with paints and collage. Peer Support The ability to work closely with one another is a fundamental aspect of a successful artsbased project.

For some of the participants it was difficult to think about making a zine. None of us had ever seen a zine before so we did not know how we were going to make these zines. But through strong facilitation and guidance from Elsa and Quinten, and group work that allows for peer support, beautiful zines by each and every participant were made. Many participants were not confident in their English speaking skills. And, even though Elsa encouraged us to speak and write in whatever language we wanted, all of the participants 96

This is the fourth project that has taken place in Limpopo, involving collaboration with the ACMS. The first one was the 2013-14 Volume 44 participatory photo project; the second one entitled, Equal Airtime was a body mapping and narrative writing project. The third project took place in August 2016, bringing Volume 44 participants together to create a Limpopo Special Edition of the Izwi Lethu: Our Voices newsletter.

chose to create their zines in English so that more people could read them and so that they could practice English language skills. By the end of the workshop, participants were sharing, reading, and writing more easily and confidently in English. Practicing and learning english is an important part of these projects for us. Interestingly, the participants with very limited English skills ended up creating the best zines in the group. This is because using art doesn’t have a language.

For Sisonke, these projects are a learning process. The projects show us that we can do and create amazing things that can be used to build solidarity with other sex workers and to support advocacy campaigns. The works produced by sex workers themselves can be used as tools to fight for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa.

Even though the zines are beautiful and powerful, the most important aspect of the projects for us is that we get to know one another better. Spending time together in a safe space sharing stories with one another, learning more about each others lives, and supporting one another when painful stories are told, gives everyone involved a chance to form stronger friendships and stronger support circles. This is especially important for us because as sex workers we face a lot of stigma and discrimination and we face and survive too many heartaches. Being able to talk openly and form bonds with one another is more important than anything that we create for the world because without one another, without Sisonke bringing us together, we are alone in a cruel world.

We look forward to keeping this partnership with the ACMS as it has proved to be a positive partnership for the Movement and for the lives of those involved.



Art and Activism Moshoula Capous-Desyllas Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Social Welfare & Social Justice Option Coordinator, California State University Northridge

The fusion of visual art with communitybased approaches to research provides the opportunity to develop unique knowledge and gain deeper insights into the experiences of sex workers. Communitybased research projects, such as the Sex Worker Zine Project, challenge the production and dissemination of knowledge about sex workers, providing the creation of art as a form of activism.

with the opportunity for re-writing cultural and social scripts. This process prompted them to break free, letting their unedited, unscripted ideas to flow freely from minds to hearts to action. These sex workers bring awareness about these experiences and perspectives through the political act of creating zines. My own arts-based research with sex workers in the United States is informed by my belief in the power of art to express thoughts and emotions in an accessible way, to heal past hurt and pain through creativity, and to inspire action for activism and social change. My own personal and political perspective of sex work is consistent with the idea that sex work is a legitimate form of labor. I recognise that sex work involves both dangers and pleasures within a continuum of individual experiences and intersecting identities. I also acknowledge the imbalance of power on an institutional, communal, and individual level and how this affects people working in the sex trade.

Zines have the power to illuminate the political agency of people working in the sex trade and their efforts to speak out against the criminalisation of sex workers, workrelated stigma, violence, and other injustices. Through their zines, these sex workers captured important issues relevant to their lives, including their positionality and intersecting identities, their lived experiences and life histories, as well as their perspectives on important social and political issues. Creating and sharing zines is both an aesthetic experience and political act.

I believe that sex workers themselves can best illustrate the complexity of sex

Zine-making provided these sex workers 98

workers’ sexual agency. Viewing women as active agents in a broader context successfully captures the multiple subjectivities and the range of experiences, contradictions, and complexities of sex work. Using arts-based research methods with sex workers affirms agency, selfrepresentation, voice, and choice in sex work.

We need to support methods, such as this, that include the creative participation of sex workers and support their opportunities for self-representation and self-definition. These zines are representative of the power of art to transform lives of people who create the art and those who value it.

Giving sex workers the power to represent themselves through visual art serves to shift the power dynamics, acknowledges their contributions to the research process, and provides a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the complex realities of their lives. It is crucial that community-based research projects with sex workers continue to use arts-based methods to explore and understand the multi-layered, multidimensional, and complex realities of individuals working in the sex industry. We should continue to advocate for research, such as this zine project, that challenges stereotypes, stigma, and assumptions about sex work. 99


The Complexities of Identity and Sex Work in Contemporary South Africa: A Reflection on the Sex Worker Zine Project Caroline Wanjiku Kihato Independent Researcher & Writer, Global Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

The Sex Worker Zine Project comprises of twenty-four zines produced by men, women, and transgender sex workers living in the Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and Gauteng provinces of South Africa. The publications bring to life the struggles and triumphs of a group that is marginalised by their families and the communities in which they live. The publications are set against the backdrop of growing economic and political hardships in South Africa; levels of political unrest are high as voters protest the failure of government to deliver services to the poor. Coupled with this are growing levels of homophobic and xenophobic violence, and a dangerous turn towards patriarchal heteronormative nationalist politics.

Moving between places Participants often reflected on where they came from, why they were where they were, and where they hoped to go.

The zines are life-stories that follow similar narrative arcs: the author’s early life of abandonment and abuse, a period of anguish and confusion, and then a resolve to action and self-realisation. Despite their hopeful messages, the stories are visceral. In a few short pages, the zines take the reader through a roller coaster of intense hurt and 100

healing, anguish and faith, rage and calm, and a catharsis of self-acceptance, self-love, and self-power. Few genres can deliver raw humanity with such efficiency. And it is not just the flexibility of the zine page and their multiple modes of representation—words, images and drawings—that make these publications such immediate conveyers of meaning. It is the attention to detail, the size of the text, the choice of image and drawing, their location on the page, and how they all synchronise (or not) on a page. Indeed to read these publications, to understand them, to decipher their meaning, it is these details—at once jarring and child like, violent and sweet—that communicate the complexities of identity and sex work in contemporary South Africa. The covers scream, “FORCED MARRIAGE”, “Do you hear them cry South Africa“, “MY FALLEN ROSE OF RED”, “A thorn in the flesh”, An abused child”. But I do none of these titles justice in this printed form. In the zine format they convey terror. For example, Nonthando, the author of An abused child, has images of

a woman with her hands on her face as if to cover up her shame, fear, and vulnerability of being abused. Here, the words with the images are able to convey much more. Through these zines, the authors talk back to a society that has all but judged them, told them they are not worthy, insulted, and abused them. Yet as the authors laid bear their lives as children, community members, parents, friends, and sex workers, I could not help thinking about their process of story-telling. The very act of exposing, making sense of, and re-living traumatic life episodes affects the storyteller. I would have liked to have some background about the project, a sense of how participats in this project shifted, or not. Was it difficult to participate? Was it cathartic or traumatic? How are you now? For now, all I can write about what these powerful publications evoked in me: a sense of deep sadness and some hope at the resilience and strength of humanity.


Intersectionality through the Arts Sonia Onufer Corrêa Research associate, Associação Brasileira Interdisciplinar de AIDS (ABIA) and co-chair of Sexuality Policy Watch

The Sex Worker Zine Project, developed in partnership with the MoVE project at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) and the Sisonke Sex Worker Movement, highlight how collective sharing, research, and art can be combined to enhance awareness and political action against stigma, discrimination, and violence. One of its remarkable features is that the project was constructed in direct partnership with persons engaged in commercial sex—a group that faces extreme exclusion. It is also quite notable that female, male, and trans persons engaged in sex work were part of the project. Attention to detail Participants worked carefully and intentionally. While many of their stories included personal accounts of hardships, all wanted to highlight important aspects of survival, pride, and perserverance.

The Sex Worker Zine Project methodology evokes Paulo Freire inspired experiences of popular education that have mushroomed in Brazil and other Latin American countries since the 1970’s. This approach opens up the space for individual and collective recoveries of harsh life experiences and social conditions; it supports a process of collecting empirical evidences and testimonies of abuses and discrimination; and, it enables those involved to reconstruct their experiences through words and images as a way to enhance claims for recognition, non-discrimination, and justice. 102

Although the narratives tend to focus on stories of suffering and hardship they do so in a way that does not compound a victimising discourse. They speak of hard realities in a tone that is also about resisting, contesting, and moving forward. Testimonies of friendship and love are often accompanied by stories of dancing, laughing, and singing.

Many of the zine stories include tales of harsh childhood experiences and of discrimination and violence in schools and communities. Some share experiences of pride in what they have been able to do with their sex work earnings, and others make poignant calls for the decriminalisation of sex work. The narratives illuminate the deeply ingrained patterns of household inequalities and violence contrasting dominant ideologies that speak of the family as spaces of protection and safety. Revealing the scarcity of public support networks, including lack of access to proper documentation in order to reside legally in the country and/or working in an industry that is currently criminalised in South Africa, the collective stories make evident patriarchal and heternormative norms, practices, and pressures that are active in households, communities, policies, and publics institutions.

The artworks are raw and beautiful. Drawings and collage alongside written narratives support powerful stories of heartache, love, courage, and activism. While reading the zines, I was stirred with a range of strong emotions and admiration. Recognising that even under the harshest of conditions positive changes is possible. The project clearly indicates that through a process of sharing and reflecting; creating art in its various forms provides an important opportunity for everyone involved— participants, researchers, activists and public audiences—to consider the lived realities of migrants who sell sex in South Africa.

The collection of works compellingly show— and make evident—that it is not possible to address sexuality matters, including sex work, without taking into account intersectionality in respect to gender, class, age, and lived spaces. 103


Zines as Storytelling, Sense-Making, and Influence Susan Williams Facilitator, storyteller, writer

Alasdair MacIntyre (1981) describes storytelling as an essential human quality that enables humans to reduce the unknowable complexity of the world required for their survival. In addition, the feedback we receive in response to our own stories and the accounts of others’ stories allow us to develop a concept of self in relationship to others. In other words, the stories we tell about our experiences allow us to make sense of our world.

the facts of a life lived and the feelings evoked by living that life; between allowing the reader/hearer to understand, and at the same time to experience emotion. To me, the zines were authentic; I could trust the storyteller and believe in his or her story. As a reader, the simplicity, and at times, the rawness, of the stories invited me into the circumstances in which the storyteller had found him or herself—the circumstances that contributed to creating the identity and the self-concept of the narrator and actor of the story. By being confronted by their vulnerability, as well as their strength and determination to rise above difficult circumstances, the reader is challenged to take a stance: to be affected, to acknowledge the universal need to be accepted and to belong, or to turn away. In the same way, the exhibition of these zines, through which the stories of the zines were explored visually, provided a subtle, but powerful, act of defiance against institutionalised marginalisation and criminalisation of migrants and LGBTQ, challenging the viewer to take a stance.

Storytelling and story-listening are both, therefore, essential for the formation of identity, reputation, and a sense of our responsibility for and accountability to others (Williams 2014). Through the stories we tell and against which we are measured, we become authentic human beings who share lives and emotions, as well as memories and histories. For the reader/hearer to believe in the message the story brings and be influenced by that story, however, he/she needs to trust the storyteller. When I first read the stories told by these zines, I was moved. The stories were of real people who experienced real emotions. These stories provided a connection between

As advocacy, these stories are influential, but not blatantly so. The Sex Worker Zine Project 104

did not shout out its message with the aim to change society by force. The stories told did not evoke misplaced sympathy, or shock, or manipulate, but created the opportunity for people who are often ostracised by their communities and families to tell their stories in a simple and dignified manner. As one writer wrote, “…if you don’t know, then you can never understand what we face and why we do what we do.”

After reading the zines, I looked forward to meeting the people who allowed me a glimpse into their lives and souls, and allowed me to share in a universal human memory of hope, love, passion and determination—the story of being courageous and the agent of one’s own life.

To me, these stories brought the gift of story that has the ability to touch the reader/ hearer. As teaching stories, they leave the reader/hearer with the sense of having the attention and acknowledgement of another human being who understands. By creating a shared memory, these stories can become the stories that can teach other migrants about what it means to live as a migrant in an often hostile environment. One writer wrote, “Look after yourself, be strong and independent, know why you are doing this dangerous job, and above all, don’t let prejudice break your spirit. Know you are not alone.” As teaching stories, these zines can therefore provide hope, and help others to develop the sense of self that is necessary to make sense of and respond appropriately to their world. ZINES AS STORYTELLING, SENSE-MAKING, AND INFLUENCE

InterSEXtionality in Theory and in Practice Ishtar Lakhani Human Rights Defence and Advocacy Manager, SWEAT – Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce

A colleague of mine once said to me, “sex work is what I do, it’s not who I am”. This has resonated with me—personally, politically and programmatically. All too often, as activists working in the sex work sector, we are prone to view sex worker rights through the narrow lens of HIV. We are constantly bombarded with statistics about HIV transmission and pamphlets about safe sex. Funders pour millions into HIV screening, and condoms and lubricants rain down on us. Our interventions are shaped by sterile biomedical terms like “key populations” and “vulnerable groups”, to the point of referring to people by acronyms alone: “SW’s; PWIDS; MSM’s; LGBTI’s”. I will be the first to admit that I often find myself drowning in the alphabet soup that is 21st century civil society. I frequently—and consciously—have to unplug myself from the matrix and remind myself of the term “intersectionality”.

We must resist. What freedom means for one, is not what freedom means for all. The Sex Worker Zine Project is a powerful reminder of what should be informing our advocacy and our interventions. It is a creative illustration of the complex lives of sex workers—as mothers, brothers, church— goers, community members, providers, lovers, and activists. It is a reminder to us that oppression and vulnerability occur in multiple forms and have little to do with a bunch of letters thrown together in an alphabet soup. “In this zine you will learn about life in the village and the challenges of not having water and everything else.”—Zodwa “Hopefully my story will help someone anyone, anywhere, that has lost a family friend or spouse.”—Katlego

I have to remind myself that we cannot force people into neat boxes with black and white labels no matter how hard people try and make us. We must resist. We fight against the stigma and discrimination that stereotypes sex workers as “vectors of disease” but then perpetuate it by creating programmes and messaging with a single-issue focus.

“In this zine you will learn about a sex worker is a human being, a mother who is sending her kids to school.”—Linda “In this zine you will learn that sex work made my life better.” —My Baby


“In this zine you are going to learn about my journey to South Africa.”—Linda These are all excerpts from the zines, the words of sex workers. The content of the zines is as diverse and multifaceted as the people that created them.

Learning from one another An important aspect of the project involved continuous discussions and learning between researchers and activists.

To echo Audre Lorde’s words, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”


PROJECT MEMBERS “I feel relieved that I was able to talk about this issue. Too many people feel alone like this stuff is out of this world. I feel more light now after making this zine and telling my story.� Suzy, Makhado, Limpopo participant

“This is such a good project. We can distribute these in so many places. It’s very important that sex workers tell our stories. No one can tell them like we can and our story is never told the way that we want it to be told.” Kagee, Sisonke Media and Advocacy Liaison


Many people have dedicated their time to making the Sex Worker Zine Project a success. In addition to the twenty-four people who created the zines, the ACMS, Sisonke and MoVE team worked in partnership to facilitate participation, production, and distribution. The Sex Worker Zine Project would not have been possible without generous funding from the Open Society Foundations (OSF) and the support from maHp, a Wellcome Trust funded project. Together funders, researchers, activists and artists have helped realise this project.



Project Participants Makhado Zine Storytellers













Nelspruit Zine Storytellers





K.G. Loo



My Baby


Throughout the workshops, participants explored ways to express themselves and share ideas while preserving anonymity. Participants selected these portraits to be displayed during the 2016 exhibition titled MoVE: Showcasing of New Work.



Assistant Facilitators and Johannesburg Participants People who assisted the facilitators and participants while also making their own zines.

Linda has been a member of the Sisonke Sex Worker Movement since 2013. Since this time, she has participated in various Sisonke outreach campaigns and activities. In 2013, Linda was a participant in the Volume 44 project. Her commitment to bringing issues of sex work and migration to light led to her selection as a reporter for the Izwi Lethu: Our Voices newsletter. In 2015, she was approached to serve as project assistant during the Sex Worker Zine Project.

Katlego Rasebitse has been a member of the Sisonke Sex Worker Movement since 2012. During this time, he has volunteered for Sisonke as an activist and as a facilitator during Sisonke creative space meetings. Hired in 2013 as the Sisonke Advocacy Liasion Coordinator, he continues to support sex workers during court proceedings, representing sex work issues at a range of local, national, and international meetings. In 2015, Katlego was appointed the role of a Media Liaison for Gauteng. He is also on the editorial board of the Izwi Lethu: Our Voices newsletter.



People who drove the planning, facilitation, and presentation of the project.

Elsa Oliveira is a researcher and PhD candidate at the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), Wits University. As the co-founder of the MoVE Project, she is commited to research endeavors that are driven by social justice agendas. Elsa is interested in exploring new ways of conducting and disseminating research, including developing ways to co-produce and share knowledge through public engagement, specially in the areas of migration, sexuality, gender, and health.

Quinten Edward Williams is a Johannesburg based artist. Arts-based research projects provide him with the opportunity to work with nuanced relationships that are embedded in specific places. Projects such as the Sex Worker Zine Project allows Quinten to expand his art practice beyond the painter’s studio, linking up with social justice movements.



Project Partners MoVE

MoVE is a project housed at the African Centre for Migration and Society (ACMS) at the University of the Witwatersrand located in Johannesburg, South Africa, and it focuses on the development of visual and other involved methodologies to research the lived experiences of migrants in southern Africa. Our approach aims to integrate social action with research and involves collaboration with migrant participants, existing social movements, qualified facilitators, and trainers, and students engaged in participatory research methods. This work includes the study and use of visual methods—including photography, narrative writing, participatory theatre, collage—and other arts-based approaches in the process of producing, analysing, and disseminating research data. These approaches to research facilitate story-telling and self-study, incorporating various auto-ethnographic approaches. Central areas of investigation relate to issues of social justice in relation to migration, with a specific focus on sexuality, gender, health, and policy.

Since 2006, the African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS) has explored the use of creative methodologies with more traditional qualitative research methods in social science research. These projects engage in the co-production of knowledge through the development of partnerships with migrant groups; a central focus is the involvement of under-represented migrant groups that face multiple vulnerabilities to collectively develop methods that ensure that their voices are heard and seen. To date, projects have been conducted with migrant men, women, and transgender persons engaged in the sex industry, informal settlement residents, inner-city migrants, and hostel residents. These projects have culminated in a range of research and advocacy outputs, including community-based exhibitions, public exhibitions, engagement with officials, and outreach into multi-media forums.




The African Centre for Migration & Society (ACMS), formerly known as the Forced Migrations Studies Programme, is based at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The ACMS is an independent, interdisciplinary, and internationally engaged Africa-based centre of excellence for research and teaching, which shapes global discourses on human mobility, development, and social transformation. Through research, teaching, and outreach, the ACMS is a regional leader for migration on the continent, with partnerships around the world.

Sisonke Sex Worker Movement, lauched in 2003, is South Africa’s only sex worker movemet run by sex workers for sex workers. Sisonke aims to unite sex workers, improve living and working conditions, fight for equal access to rights, and avocate for the deciminalisation of sex work in South Africa.

Address correspondence to: Pamela Chakuvinga, Assistant National Director, Cape Town, South Africa. +27 021 448 7875



Project Funders Open Society Foundations (OSF)

The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant societies whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people. We seek to strengthen the rule of law; respect for human rights, minorities, and a diversity of opinions; democratically elected governments; and a civil society that helps keep government power in check. We help to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal, and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights. We implement initiatives to advance justice, education, public health, and independent media. We build alliances across borders and continents on issues such as corruption and freedom of information. Working in every part of the world, the Open Society Foundations place a high priority on protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalized communities.



Wellcome Trust

The migration and health project southern Africa (maHp) at the ACMS is supported by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award. Involving a series of unique research and public engagement projects, maHp explores ways to generate and communicate knowledge to improve responses to migration, health, and wellbeing in the SADC region. Multiple disciplinary perspectives, mixed methods, and the involvement of various stakeholders—including migrants—are considered central to exploring the production of knowledge and its application.

The Wellcome Trust is dedicated to improving health. We believe this can only be achieved if advances in biomedical research are accompanied by advances in our understanding of the social, cultural, and historical contexts of medicine, health, and wellbeing. Only with an understanding of those contexts can we address the practical, political, and ethical challenges that are raised by the global burden of illness, disease, and health disparity. Izwi Lethu is supported by a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award held by Jo Vearey.



Bibliography Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (2009). “The Danger of a Single Story” TED Talk. MacIntyre, Alasdair. (1981). After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Bloomsbury. UK. Snyder, Nikko. (2002). “Good Girl! Communicating across difference and building community among Canadian Women”. Williams, Susan. (2014). A Perspective on Ethical Agency in Complex Adaptive Systems: Providing a Philisophical Description and Analysis of the Cynefin Framework and Sensemaker Suite™. MA Philosophy. University of Pretoria Faculty of Humanities. Women Action & the Media. (2011). “Feminist Media Activism & Zines: Where Are We Now?” www.


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