Renewed hope for EC sex workers

Leeches Bay couple helps to reintegrate women back into communities

Mncedi and Nontando Ngamlana have rehabilitated 34 former sex workers in Leeches Bay. This is a generic picture of a sex worker to help protect the identity of sex workers in East London.
Mncedi and Nontando Ngamlana have rehabilitated 34 former sex workers in Leeches Bay. This is a generic picture of a sex worker to help protect the identity of sex workers in East London.
Image: Muntu Vilakazi
Local Heroes 2019

Sex trading is not always just an alternative form of employment, but a way of life for some women.

These are the sentiments of a Leeches Bay Christian couple, Mncedi and Nontando Zintle Ngamlana, who have taken it upon themselves to reintegrate sex workers in the area back into their communities.

The couple uprooted and relocated their family of five from Cove Rock eight years ago when their “hearts” were drawn to helping the number of women who stood on the side of the famous road along the coast waiting for their next “customer”.

They located a rundown municipal building that the women were operating from, cleaned it, did some renovations and moved in.

The couple began to befriend the 30-plus women through consistent conversation and prayer in an effort to create a meaningful and sustainable intervention.

Over the eight years, the couple conducted workshops with the women, given them sewing, perfume and soap-making, as well as beadwork classes.

Their aim is to instil a sense of community.

They have travelled to holiday destinations, such as Cape Town, with some of the women, providing them with accommodation, transport and clothing.

Nontando has given cooking lessons and encouraged the women to cook with her on Sundays and other special occasions.

Through their initiative of including individuals who have been isolated by their families, they began their own church, called Den of Hope Ministries, which has an open-door policy for individuals who feel “ostracised” by society to come and worship God freely.

With the help of surrounding churches, local people and NPOs, the Ngamlanas have successfully helped 34 women out of the sex trade industry in Leeches Bay and reunited them with their families.

Nobody has ever told them that they are good enough and that they are precious

Of the 34 women, three have since died and were given a dignified burial, they said.

The couple is working with two women who have stayed behind, but are showing “progress” in wanting to move on with their lives.

“Our goal from the beginning was to understand the psyche of the women. It is such a sensitive psychological matter where they have never been provided with the validation they deserve. Nobody has ever told them that they are good enough and that they are precious.

“When we saw the number of women who were homeless and selling their bodies our hearts bled,” she said.

“When dealing with some of the issues the women faced we had to think differently and tread with the utmost sensitivity. The conversations we have with them don’t involve phrases like ‘don’t do this’ or ‘this is wrong’; instead we try to instil values. Our main aim has always been to build and groom them with alternative skills that will provide them with a sustainable income,” said Nontando.

The Ngamlana family has been staying in Leeches Bay for six years now.

The couple began a grass-cutting company in the area to keep some of the boys and men suffering from substance abuse “busy” and working while upscaling their welding skills.

“We noticed that some women would stay in the abandoned building with their boyfriends. Their boyfriends would often ‘pimp’ them out and take the earnings of the women. We knew that we had to begin a conversation with these men and speak about consent and tolerance,” said Mncedi.

The couple – who have three children of their own, aged 11, 10 and 8 – say they have adopted children who were the result of unwanted pregnancies.

While the Ngamlanas consider their initiative in Leeches Bay a full-time commitment, they are also dedicated to their 9-to-5 jobs.

Nontando is the executive director at Afesis-corplan, an East London-based NGO that contributes to community-driven development and good local governance in the Eastern Cape.

Mncedi works for the municipality in the property evaluation unit.

“With a young family of our own, we work full-time. We draw our hope from our faith to be able to help where we can,” said Nontando.

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