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Prostitutes flock to South Africa ahead of World Cup 2010

As with the 2006 World Cup in Germany, a rampant sex trade is of concern to human rights groups ahead of the World Cup 2010 in South Africa, which kicks off next month. Prostitutes, many from impoverished Zimbabwe, are arriving to cash in on an estimated 500,000 visiting fans.

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Young prostitutes appear to be organized into groups led by a elder women who smuggles the girls here from Zimbabwe, says Ushe Nyahunzvi, a man from Zimbabwe who works at the Hillbrow Inn.

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"These [elder] women are the ones who smuggle them from their native countries for the purposes of using the girls to make a living. Old women are losing business hence using the girls," Mr. Nyahunzvi says. "The competition is very tight because of the World Cup."

'I will be able to buy my own car'

Cyril Mwamba, 32, says she traveled more than 1,700 miles from Zambia's Ndola Copperbelt to reach the World Cup. Along the way, she met up with Zimbabwean prostitutes at a bus station, and she says they decided to travel together to Johannesburg for the opportunities here.

"When we came here [Summit Hotel], we were not so sure whether we would be able to attract rich and well-paying men since back home in Zambia men were looking down upon us," she says. She says she now earns R2,000 (about $270) per night.

"I am convinced that after the World Cup, I will be able to buy my own car," Ms. Mwamba says. "Cars are cheap here in South Africa."

While South African officials have long had difficulty keeping out illegal immigrants, South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs says it has tightened its borders to prevent human trafficking during the World Cup.

"We do not have evidence [of prostitutes entering the country], but will always make sure that no illegals, particularly human traffickers, enter the country through our ports," says a senior Home Affairs official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with the media.

Nevertheless, cross-border bus drivers say that the bulk of their passengers in the month of April have been women, an unusual phenomenon because it has traditionally been men who travel to South Africa for work.

"We strongly suspect that these women are here to do prostitution, and nothing else,” says Munashe Gomo, a bus driver outside Braamfontein Station.

Economy sends women into prostitution

As the richest country in southern Africa, with long and porous borders with some of southern Africa’s poorest countries, South Africa has long attracted millions of economic migrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and even the Democratic Republic of Congo. The month-long World Cup, which will draw an estimated half a million people and generate $3 billion in revenues, only adds to this attraction.

Most of the women arriving here for the sex trade appear to be from Zimbabwe because of the economic desperation there. The situation there is so bad that some women are divorcing their husbands and hoping the World Cup will bring them fortune, says Kudakwashe Zimuto, an elder in Mahoto Village in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo province.

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