‘They controlled me with money. Now I may not have as much as I used to, but it is mine.’
Lettie*, 27, with son aged 1
“My parents were dead, I was 15 and living in East London. My friend and I thought we will come to Joburg and find work as actresses on Generations. There was nobody to tell us this was not possible.”
The two hitched a lift to Auckland Park, where of course they were turned away. “We didn’t know anyone. There was a man who said we should come to his place and he would help us. He took us to his flat and bought us clothes. We were happy, he took us to salons and did our hair. This is the life we looking for.”
That evening, he sold both the girls to older men. They were paid well, lured into drinking alcohol and later, using cocaine. “He bought us clothes, we felt like princesses but now I know he was taking us to make money. The next day, he sent me with an old baba and I had to stay at his place. I didn’t know it was [sex work].
“We were addicted, we made a lot of money but we had to give half to the man, and then we spent the rest on cocaine. Once when I found a boyfriend, he let me stay with him and gave me some money. But he was so abusive, he would swear and say I have no parents, he started beating me.”
“I just broke one day. I told myself I can’t do this. Why can’t God bless me with a mind to become a better woman? I told myself it’s enough of me abusing myself and letting men abuse me.”
Fortuitously, a pregnancy test turned up positive. Lettie found herself at Bethany Home.
A year later, she works at a nail salon.
Her little boy bounces around at her feet.
“I earn about R900 a week. It hurts me that I used to make more money in a day. That was the only work I knew. But at least this is my own and I don’t spend it on drugs or pay a pimp. I can buy what I need for my baby and we will be OK.”
Lettie and her one-year-old son