Playing with South Africa's seedy sex industry
What percentage of male football fans coming to South Africa are going to pay for sex? Any answer can only be a fairly wild guess, I suppose. But earlier this year I had a very frank conversation with a couple of members of the "Barmy Army," the famously excitable group that follows the England cricket team around the world and had just been touring South Africa. "I would honestly say 90% - I was shocked," was the candid answer I was given by one individual who didn't want to be named.
Ninety percent may, of course, be an exaggeration - or a phenomenon peculiar to cricket fans - but it does suggest that a fair number of visitors will get involved over the next few weeks in South Africa's sometimes murky sex industry.
"Don't" is the simple message from Britain's foreign office.
The FCO's consular boss, Julian Braithwaite urged England fans "to think long and hard before they engage in any sexual contact in this country. We can't get you out of jail for free." He told me his biggest concern, besides breaking the law in a country where prostitution remains illegal, was HIV and Aids.
There are no definitive statistics, but researchers have estimated that between 40 and 50% of sex workers may be HIV-positive. "It's a real health risk," said Mr Braithwaite.
But will that stop people? "I know the English and Germans are very randy," said Marvin Resant with a grin. He's the owner of several entertainment clubs in Johannesburg including "Maxime's" - a huge sports bar complex with a hotel on top of it, not far from the Ellis Park stadium. By early evening, last week, the lobby was packed with women. "As long as the fans go to the right places, like this place, where there is security, they'll be fine," said Mr Resant, but he expressed concern about the possibility of police raids. "The police always crack down. It will be very embarrassing if they do it during the World Cup. They should treat it with a lot of sensitivity." His advice for fans: "Condomise, and have fun."
A few blocks away, in a seedy hotel room above another bar, a 24-year-old prostitute called Busi was getting ready for a night on the streets. "I'm imagining lots of... different men, Italians, Romeo [sic], Spanish, Ghana..." she said. Busi is hoping to triple her daily earnings during the tournament and then, hopefully, get out of the business. "At times I feel scared. I drink and smoke just to have the courage to face what's happening." Busi is worried about Aids, but far more concerned about the rising competition from Zimbabwean women who are undercutting local prostitutes on the streets, and about the harassment, intimidation and occasional rapes carried out by South African police officers.
"I was raped by two police," said another prostitute I spoke to in Diepsloot, a notoriously violent township outside Johannesburg and an area that foreign fans are not likely to visit. The woman, and two colleagues, described their lives as being trapped between the gangsters who rob their clients, and the police who extort money from them. "You can die at any moment. We are just risking our lives," said an articulate Zimbabwean woman, who told me she hopes to become an actor and novelist.