Cape Town's first black-owned craft brewery humanises sex workers
#SayHerName. That’s what craft brewer Lethu Tshabangu wants you to do when you pick up the special release of his Utywala Sorghum Saison this winter.
That name could be Thembi, a 40-year-old churchgoing mother of two who died while being chased by police. Perhaps 19-year-old Samantha, murdered while at work. Or Anitha, who sees clients to support herself and two younger siblings. Many names, but one thing in common — they are all sex workers who suffered, and continue to suffer, because their work remains a crime under law.
But, in a co-lab with the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), Tshabangu is doing his bit to change that.
“It’s a conversation that began on my podcast, which brings conversations with ordinary people to create a relationship between people and craft beer,” explains Tshabangu, founder of Ukhamba Beerworx, Cape Town’s first black-owned craft brewery. “On one episode we had ladies from SWEAT, and they really educated me about sex work and the struggles they face. I realised I’m ignorant on the topic because we don’t talk about it. We have mastered the art of acting as if sex work doesn’t exist. And sex workers are struggling because of it.”
To bring that conversation into the open Tshabangu has released the SWEAT Limited Edition of his flagship beer, uniquely labelled with the real-life experiences of sex workers.
“It’s about humanising sex workers,” he says. “I wanted to do my part to bring awareness, so when people drink the beer and hold the bottle they realise that sex workers have names, they have lives, and they have families.”
“We had so many stories to choose from, and though the names have been changed, these are real stories. And they are each so painful,” explains Zandile Mbabaza, advocacy worker at SWEAT, which has campaigned for the rights of sex workers, and decriminalisation , since 1994. “The idea is that people will read these stories and see that sex workers are real people, they’re human.”
Hipster-friendly craft beer and sex work may seem poles apart, but the two are often intimately entwined, says Tshabangu. “Many people meet sex workers in bars or in clubs, where they might be sharing a beer. So alcohol is a key part of that process. By sharing these stories we want to evoke empathy, so people will understand sex workers are fighting for their rights. The more you understand people, the more compassion you feel for them. So many times the stigma just comes from a lack of understanding.”