Kholi Buthelezi: Why I fight for decriminalisation of sex work

Activist profile: Kholi Buthelezi

I am passion driven, a team player and the love for the work I do keeps me going. In addition, the sex worker movement brings together people who advocate for the same common goal. I put myself into people’s shoes in anything I do. This is important in understanding the community you with.

Sisonke, South Africa, Kholi Buthelezi

Describe yourself and your work

My name is Kholi Buthelezi. I am the National Coordinator and founder of the sex work-led movement called Sisonke that advocates for the call for the decriminalisation of consented adult sex work in South Africa.

What motivates your activism?

I have been a feminist activist since 2002. As a Southern African woman, I realised women especially sex workers are marginalised and face high levels of stigma and discrimination. My passion and dream is to mobilise and organise sex workers of all diversities regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity to claim their rights including acceptable living standards, fair and safe working conditions. I advocate for decriminalisation of consented adult sex work, access to Universal Health Care, legal and social services. I also champion for safer sex practices, health and the general well being of my community.

Sisonke is one of the oldest sex worker-led movement in Africa, what is the secret?

Working as a team and continuously learning from our shortcomings. Our members and staff come with different skills and roles are assigned according to people strengths. We also constantly learning from each other and our partners to fill in any notable gaps.

You are a stronger advocate for community-led organisations, why?

I believe sex workers are experts in running programs, projects and movement building that serve their needs. This is good practice.

What is your message to the community and upcoming movement leaders

They should have skills and personal attributes that are key to building a strong organisation or movement. They should be good listeners, honest, team players, committed because advocacy is not easy. Most all they should be willing to learn and build opportunities for networking with organisations with similar objectives.

Message to sex workers

  • It is important to save money for their present needs and future emergencies
  • Remember to practice safer sex at all times to prevent contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. During COVID-19 out break, sex workers should adhere to government regulations. However they must report all cases of violence against our community
  • It is important to be part of the movement building in their countries because there is strength in numbers. Organisations have activities that empowers sex workers to grow the movement in different areas
  • Advocacy for changes in oppressive laws and policies is a win for all sex workers
  • All sex workers should actively be involved in calls for #DecrimSexNow to ensure all those in the industry are protected

The community should stop fighting among each other because such competition opens the loopholes for anti-sex work, unfriendly people to sex workers to disrespect sex workers (solidarity and unity is important)


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