All That Glitters: How HIV Caught Fire In South Africa

Part One: Sex And The Migrant Miner

Twenty-seven-year-old Xolani Mbatha says he, too, sleeps only with his steady girlfriend, but a few minutes later he winks and says "of course" he's here to pick up a woman. Twenty-two-year-old mine welder Robert Sembilerie is even more up front, saying he has "no regrets" about having women on the side because his girlfriend doesn't satisfy him in bed. Sembilerie usually scores just by buying drinks and flirting, but around the corner is the President Hotel where, he says, a room, beer, and a prostitute go for 70 rand, about $11.

That's expensive, but those who can't afford it can amble over to what Yodwa Mzaidume, an AIDS education worker, calls "the bedroom," a rent-free field of high grass and low trees where clusters of sex workers spend the day waiting for customers. Such open-air brothels exist near most mining hostels because, as Mzaidume explains, poor women from all over the region believe that miners have "baskets of gold." Some women, she says, come just for the weekend. "It's common practice for a woman to loiter at the mine entrance, and even if 10 men pass her by, she knows the 11th or 12th will buy her."

Research assistance: Tien-Shun Lee and Reetpaul Rana

This is the first of Schoof's series on HIV in South Africa.

Read part two: A Woman's Work.

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