Tracy is 27 and she sells her body on the streets of Brooklyn. Tracy isn’t her real name. Tracy is wearing tiny denim shorts and an ill-fitting brown wig.
She clasps a broken bottle neck with her tattooed fingers and draws hungrily on the mandrax and dagga. Smoke fills the car.
She calls herself a marhosha (a Xhosa word for prostitute) and tells how she got into the business from scratching in the neighbourhood’s bins.
Life as a marhosha is hard, says Tracy: the dangers are both on and off the streets.
“Most pimps don’t treat their girls well. They beat their girls. They are wicked. They are always watching.”
Tracy caught a bus to Johannesburg a few weeks ago but she hated working up there and came back as soon as she could.
“Johannesburg is not like Cape Town. There girls are traded all the time to make business. I was so desperate to come back,” she said. “I worked until I could buy a bus ticket to get home.”
In Joburg she heard about a good friend who had been raped and murdered by her pimp and another man back in Cape Town.
They smashed her head in with a brick.
Tracy has her own pimp, but most of the time she sleeps on the streets.
She fell pregnant last year, but got an abortion. Her pimp said a pregnancy would “interfere with business”.
Tracy can service up to 35 clients a week. She charges R150 for sex and a blowjob and between R400 and R500 for a “full house”, which includes anal sex. “A sleep over” costs R1 500.
“The best clients are the ones using rocks because they spend a lot of money.”
She says she always has condoms with her, which she collects at the Albow Gardens clinic -indeed there’s a long strip of them in her bag where she also keeps her drugs – but sometimes clients don’t want to use protection.
Tracy uses mandrax and tik and works mostly so she can feed her habit.
Prostitution is rife in Brooklyn, and Cheryl Castle, the chairwoman of the local neighbourhood watch, says prostitutes are regularly found working the pavements of Poole, Kuala and Justin streets and the area opposite of Albow Gardens.
And human trafficking ensures there are always fresh faces on the streets.
Last year, the provincial Department of Social Development dealt with 220 cases of human trafficking. In one case, says department spokesman Sihle Ngobese, a 22-year-old woman was held in a Brooklyn brothel and plied with drugs to force her into the sex trade.
“The department intervened after she escaped and we assisted by placing her in a place of safety,” he says.
Human Trafficking Week is marked from October 2 to 6 , and on Wednesday October 4, Social Development MEC Albert Fritz led a protest against it in St George’s Mall, where he was joined by handful of people including specialist anti-human trafficking social workers and non-government organisations such as Stop Trafficking of People, the Triangle Project and A21.
The protesters held up placards: “slam the brakes on human trafficking”, “end modern day slavery”, “people are not commodities” and “#notforsale”.
For Tracy, Human Trafficking Week was business as usual: blowjobs, full houses, 35 clients a week for the drugs and the pimp.
She feels for the girls who are forced into the life she lives.
“There are so many foreign girls from inland who were forced to be here,” she says. “You can see by the way they are dressed and by their broken shoes.”
* Suspected cases of human trafficking can be reported to the police or to the Department of Social Development hotline at 0800 220 250.