“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” – George Owell
There must be a clear line drawn between the decriminalising of sex work for the benefit of safety, and the regulation of legal work, as oppose to non regulation and danger in illegality, and actually decriminalization because we are convinced that dehumanising and exploitative labour is tolerable. The call for decriminalisation must never be advanced from an ignorance of structural coercion, financial exclusion and the dehumanization agenda of capitalism. Writers before me have shared and contributed to shaping this thought.
The battle for empowerment and humanization must never be advanced from a naive confusion and shallow misrepresentation of the role of labour and the values of capitalism. We lament a weak, but popular feminist argument made in the name of reinforcing ideas of ethics, self actualization, autonomy and relative morality. The argument endorses a legitimisation of sex work because it apparently holds some opportunity for individual income and agency. In other words, to hell with our socialist ideals of ending the commodification of people, and we must continue to expand the problematic values of capitalism. In fact, their argument is that we must disregard absolute consent, and that structural coercion is not so bad because it is happening anyway, and everywhere.
Basically there is an underlying liberal-cultural tolerance and support for dehumanizing, exploitative and usually degrading work because, “similarly dehumanizing exploitative and degrading work is already legitimized”.
The question is by whom? Who legitimized such work? Who benefits from such a legitimization of such work? Who benefits from an absolute introduction and expansion of work that is dissociated from humanity and socialist values of dignity? Who is at the helm of capitalism, and why do we think there will never be an attempt for its institutions and its bourgeoisie peddlers to expand its agenda on the structurally excluded? Why do we think it will not use our own?
In the name of proving that theory is fluid, constantly moving and capable to read and capture time, we have heard probably the most disastrous revision of Marx in history. This bastardisation is unforgivable, non-scientific, and quite frankly, should be severely punished, as should plagiarism. As Fanon so correctly put it, “Black people are locked in blackness and white people are locked in whiteness…” Therefore, we must never be afraid to zoom into our reality and our conditions in an anti black world.
Can we, in an anti black world, participate, cultivate and without serious scrutiny adopt the language, subjectivity and culturalization project of the bourgeoisie, who are anti-black extensions of an anti black world? We must reflect on the premature willingness to participate in our own oppression, and constantly guard our tolerance for oppression, dehumanizing work and culturalization of the west. I am sold to support Mandisi Gladile’s piece, titled; The Fallacy of Sex Work as Real Work.
We must honestly reject both submissions brought forward as responses to Mandisi’s initial piece. Firstly, they are illogical and plagiarized regurgitations of liberal logic, and like all liberal reformists, we never see their logic exist and survive post capitalism.
We have heard the most shallow and borrowed argument that, “all work under capitalism is particularly dehumanising and therefore it’s apparently a valid reason to introduce another dehumanising activity.”
I wonder if the idiocy of this cabal would continue to say people who are terminally ill should not be allowed medicine because there are other terminally ill people out there and they are dying. Let’s let everyone die. If we can prevent further expansion of a dehumanizing and exploitative labour why not prevent it?
The Nordic model used in Switzerland is a great attempt at maintaining balance between maintaining a rejection for the dehumanizing and exploitative labour that is sex work, while protecting the vulnerable and structurally coerced sex worker. In short, it is a hybrid decriminalization of prostitution with a criminalisation of the purchase of commercial sexual activity, with support for those who want to get out through education and governmental support. This is a conversation I am yet to hear from the space, which is sad because the only leg this argument of decriminalising sex work has stood on is the benefit of safety and regulation of legal labour.
Here is a model that is slowly guaranteeing such, and still substantively criminalizing the sale of one’s body, but we still only hear “your mothers were sex workers, sex work is work we don’t care if its dehumanizing and exploitative.”
Say we entertain their arguments and, for a moment, pretend their points are valid. If we legitimise sex work as “work” now; what will sex work look like in liberated society? If we agree with the sale of one’s body now, we must agree that we must retain it in the future. If as socialists we are pushing for means of production to be socialized according to the principle of each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs; how will prostitution and sex work, work?
Needless to say, the idea that lobola being accepted culturally is a manifestation of sex work is ludicrous, ideologically lazy and personifies a cultural hangover. However, we are forgiving because we know this is a result of liberal socialisation and boutique multiculturalism. We know that these two things are very discrete about their hostility to afro-centric culture and practice, even if they at times sound accommodative to African experiences. Proudly, we reject disingenuous and colossal contradictions of pan Africans and socialists, made to appease a comfort for a liberal anti-African and a capitalist post colonialism-modernisation project.
Though we exist within a defiling capitalist reality and its coerced dehumanizing conditions, we must always revolt. We must always capacitate ourselves and even those who want to dehumanise themselves for survival, with theory that will help them escape the box of blackness and its oppressive trap of dehumanization. Beyond just saying sex work for the structurally excluded and structurally coerced can’t be legitimate work, I further hypothesize with Gladile that this is foreign to African epistemology and must be rejected.
This is why this conversation is happening within the lens of a compromised liberal legal framework. We must never use the law to vindicate capitalist evils. This conversation is not just about liberal gymnastics of legality, as liberal reformist have misled us to believe. Of course, in the eyes of liberal reformists, changing the law instead of removing an entire system is revolutionary and progressive. However, to those of us who have not forgotten that the current law is an extension of the Roman-Dutch rule and capitalist colonial order, it bears no allegiance to socialist expression and the epistemology of Africa. We cannot willingly swallow this liberal legal pill.
The institution encompasses no true observation and appreciation for socialist ideals and values. This liberal insanity and obsession to attempt to quench the disastrous dangers of sex work is problematic, disingenuous and serves as a tool to legalise dehumanization and the objectification of the human body. Basically we have, on one hand, a cabal that is grand standing, plagiarizing and even insulting traditional leftists for the continued sale of the souls of people to dehumanizing and exploitative labour. On the other extreme, we have people who think that these people are insane. I am part of the latter.
Xola Mehlomakulu is the National Spokesperson of EFFSC
Former UKZN PSRC Secretary General 16/17
Former UKZN CSRC Academic and transformation 17/18
Umthatha Christian School Debating Coach