Dockside Prostitution in South African Ports

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Abstract

Prostitution has been a staple of dockside social life for centuries. In South Africa, it dates from the Dutch East India Company's establishment of a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope. But unlike other prostitution sectors – streets, brothels, agencies – the women of the dockside sex trade in Cape Town and Durban participate in a global traffic of ideas, diseases, DNA, contraband and currency through their ceaseless interactions with foreign sailors. They exploit their knowledge of the seamen's languages and cultures so as to more effectively solicit their marks in a competitive and cosmopolitan environment. Social historians provide passing glimpses of dockside prostitution in their consideration of larger historical themes – Company rule, slavery, British colonial governance, the Mineral Revolution, the Anglo-Boer War and apartheid – but they have yet to treat it as a distinct analytical category through which to view the past. However, popular intellectual trends suggest that research into the dockside sex trade would add new dimensions to the histories of cosmopolitanism, gender, globalization, maritime recreation and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

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