High Court dismisses sex workers application

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Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Court Reporter
THE High Court has dismissed an application by a Bulawayo-based organisation representing prostitutes which was suing Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo and the police for refusing to sanction a march by its members to commemorate International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers.

The International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers is observed annually by sex workers, their advocates, friends and families in several cities around the world on December 17 each year.

The ruling by the Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Martin Makonese follows an application by Sexual Rights Centre which sought an order interdicting police from interfering with its future marches.

The organisation also wanted an order declaring the prohibition of its march, which was scheduled for December 17 last year, a violation of its members’ rights.

Sexual Rights Centre last year applied to the police in Bulawayo seeking permission to hold a march in Bulawayo.

Police, who are the regulating authority in terms of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), refused to grant the organisation permission to demonstrate, arguing that prostitution was an illegal practice in the country.

In papers before the court, Sexual Rights Centre cited Minister Chombo, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri and Chief Superintendent Fungai Dengu, the officer commanding police in Bulawayo Central District, as the respondents.

Justice Makonese said prostitution was associated with immorality.

“The court does not operate in a vacuum and has to be sensitive to the acceptable moral standards of the society it operates in. It cannot be said that the sex industry is something that can be glorified or celebrated even in an open and democratic society,” said the judge.

He said although sex workers ply their trade for the purpose of fending for their families, societal values and expectations do not promote prostitution as a legitimate means of earning a living.

“It is not a trade the young generation is encouraged to emulate. It is a trade devoid of moral values and is demeaning and the normative values in our jurisdiction do not sit well with the promotion and glorification of sex trade and what it represents,” said Justice Makonese.

The judge said the promotion of sex work by holding commemorative marches further stigmatises sex workers.

“If this court allows prostitutes to parade, promote and glorify their trade, other groups of like-minded persons will be encouraged to promote perverse acts. A court of law cannot sanction such an absurdity. I am of the view that the enjoyment of the fundamental rights under section 58 and 59 of the constitution must recede and give way to the values of decency, human dignity and morality.

“I hereby dismiss the application with costs,” ruled Justice Makonese.

Sexual Rights Centre, through its lawyers Phulu and Ncube Legal Practitioners, said police had no legal basis to bar its members from staging a march, arguing that the cops’ actions was a violation of their constitutional rights.

Mr Humphrey Melusi Ndondo, who is director of the organisation, in his founding affidavit, said the march sought to bring to the fore the challenges faced by sex workers in the country as they go through day-today business.

“We merely wish to exercise our constitutional rights to freely demonstrate and assemble peacefully. We do not intend to harm anyone, but to create awareness on acts of violence and abuse perpetrated against sex workers,” said Mr Ndondo.

“Many sex workers and women in Zimbabwe and around the world are victims of harassment, stigma and violence. The first respondent (Chief Supt Dengu)’s decision to deny us the right to demonstrate is based on misinterpretation of the law and therefore it was unlawful and irrational.” — @mashnets

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