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Travel ban effects trickle down from waiters to sex workers

Ben Kasongo has made up to three times his salary in tips received from tourists who dined at Ocean Basket. With the travel ban still in place, Kasongo said the loss in tips will be felt. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Ben Kasongo has made up to three times his salary in tips received from tourists who dined at Ocean Basket. With the travel ban still in place, Kasongo said the loss in tips will be felt. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Dec 19, 2021


Cape Town – From waiters who rely on healthy tips from tourists with deep pockets to sex workers with regular overseas clientele, the ripple effected of the now lifted travel bans have been far reaching.

Ben Kasongo is a waiter at Ocean Basket at Cape Town International Airport. He frequently receives tips from tourists in their respective currency. Kasongo said he would sometimes make up to three or four times his salary from tips received from overseas customers.

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“ Europeans especially, we love serving them because they leave tips in their foreign currency,” he said.

He added: “Just recently, an American tipped me US$20, which was more than R300. Their bill wasn’t even R300.”

Kasongo said he felt frustrated after the travel ban announcement.

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"There are fewer tourists now that we are in the fourth wave. Before this, we were really busy and there's a tangible difference now," he said.

He added: "We want to be able to make money the way we used to. We can see the difference in our income. I am grateful for my salary but the tips make a big difference, especially in the festive season."

Kasongo has worked as a waiter for seven years but has worked at the airport since March last year. There was a period when he had to sit at home until the airport restaurants reopened in December last year.

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“I was afraid that I might be retrenched because I was one of the last people to be hired. I started a small business selling fish and chips, just to survive in the interim.”

Gulam Petersen is a transgender woman who, in her 30 years as a sex worker, has never experienced a dry spell such as the one presented by the travel bans.

Having worked in the industry since the age of 19, she said she seldom has to pull out her red book with clients' names. But Petersen said the pandemic has forced her to do so more often.

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“I was able to contact some of my regular clients who sent me money or a shopping voucher,” she said.

“The relationship between us is more than just client and sex worker. I can call some of my clients when I’m stuck in life,” she added.

She has at least five international clients from Amsterdam and New York who have supported her throughout the pandemic.

“They sent me money when I needed it most. We’ve had a relationship since before the pandemic," she said.

She added: "Sex work does not involve sex all the time, and I’ve become friends with many of them,” she said.

Petersen, who lives in Observatory, said lockdown placed a strain on her income.

“I was very stressed because I didn’t know how I was going to put food on the table and provide for my family.”

Added to this, Petersen had to deal with the stigma of sex workers supposedly spreading Covid-19.

“In the past, they used to say we’re spreading Aids, but now it’s Covid.”

Meanwhile, Fayruza Abrahams, owner of Taste Malay, shares Malay cooking classes and dining experiences with both locals and tourists via Airbnb experiences. Since opening her business in 2017, Abrahams has had many international clients.

Abrahams said her cooking classes were affected by the travel ban.

“When we went onto the red list, I had four group bookings cancelled and now I have no bookings left for December month,” she said.

She added: “The uncertainty of my foreign clients not knowing if they could go home or not is what caused many to cancel.”

Abrahams has since had to diversify her portfolio and extend her business offering to include other services.

Fayruza Abrahams offers cooking classes on Airbnb and has had multiple bookings cancelled as a result of the latest travel ban. Picture: Tracey Adams

“I started teaching online classes, which have helped keep me afloat. As the restrictions lifted, there was less of an interest in online classes but it’s picking up again now,” she said.

She also does catering and sells fresh produce. “I’ve had to move away from what my core business offering is, which is teaching people how to cook and about Cape Malay people and their recipes,” she said.

She added: “Thankfully my business has evolved and the challenges the travel ban has caused, has made me more innovative.

“I’ve learned not to put all my eggs in one basket. Yes, the travel ban has affected me but it has also allowed me to look at the local market, with local guests.”

Aside from in-person classes, Abrahams also travels to local clients' homes now.

“Locally, people want to do these experiences but sometimes want to do it at their own homes. I will continue doing whatever the need is. We’ve had a horrific 18 months and I don’t want to make the mistake of not making the most of what I’m dealt with,” she added.

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