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Thai sex workers who are also illegal immigrants would rather stay in South Africa than go back home, as they are "better off here". So said one of many Thai prostitutes who have worked in Richards Bay for the past three years when the Sunday Tribune visited a well-known sports bar on Friday night. The bar - which the manager has denied is a brothel - is situated in a shopping centre and also has Chinese, coloured, white and black women working there. While I waited to get in, two men kept watch on the parking bays while the guard at the gate asked me how old I was.
The women in the bar looked like they sold sex - that is, apart from the rather brawny bar-lady. Most were beautiful and well-dressed. I had my first drink before a Thai woman, who went by the name of Pat or "whatever" I wanted to call her, approached me.
She said she was 19 years old when she arrived in South Africa after responding to an au pair advert in a Thai newspaper. She spoke fluent English like most of the women. Four women had already winked or danced salaciously against me before I could finish my first drink.
One blew a kiss to get my attention. One Asian woman walked into the bar in the skimpiest of outfits, looked around and took off her panties and invitingly waved them around in the air. Two patrons stood up but only one walked out with her. She laid it down simply and said that R bought a client 15 minutes; R bought 30 minutes; R an hour; R to take home for an hour; and R1 for the whole night in one of the rooms at the bar.
She said many of the girls were with their regular clients and would normally refuse any advances from patrons as they were waiting for the "whole-nighters". In the end we get paid, too, like everyone else who has a job. She did not answer most of my questions until I agreed to pay R for her to take me into one of the back rooms. She took me through a dimly lit passage with blue walls. As we entered the passage I had to pay the R charge to another woman at the door, manned by two Indian men, before we could continue.