Porn in the R.S.A.

How a perfect storm of piracy, market forces and misdirection has made it impossible for South African pornographers to make a living

THIS PIECE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN ROLLING STONE SOUTH AFRICA, AUGUST 2012:

It would have been the pornographic equivalent of a United Colours of Benetton advertisement. Black, white, Indian and coloured South Africans all united by a common goal: to have sex with each other in as many interesting positions — and combinations — as possible.

But Mapona Volume 2, production company Sondeza’s first fully inclusive interracial porn film, is unlikely ever to be released. Not because of a racist repugnance to the rainbow nation getting it on, but rather because a perfect storm of piracy, market forces and misdirection has seemingly made it impossible for South African heterosexual pornographers — particularly black pornographers — to make a profit.


Tau Morena, the founder of Sondeza, learnt this lesson the hard way. He wrote, produced and directed Mapona Volume 1, the first all-black South African porn movie. Released in 2010, the 43-minute film has no distinct plot and instead shows an unrelated series of fantasy scenes — all with obvious use of condoms. One such scene, entitled “Sex in the Citi”, shows a man and a woman named “Titanic” having sex in a Citi Golf. Another depicts a threesome scene with an overweight man and two domestic workers, dressed only in G-strings, aprons and head scarves.

The film grabbed media attention across the world, prompting breathless analysis about how it’s five scenes clearly perpetuated the capitalist agenda and conflated material success with sexual access. It also became the best-selling local porn DVD in South African history. At the time, Morena promised that he had at least another three such movies in the pipeline. Two years later, and the realities of the South African porn marketplace have forced him to retract those promises.

Morena says he’s realised that releasing Mapona Volume 2 and furthering the stable of interracial porn films in the country would be “doomed from the get-go because of the scale of piracy issues”.

He sips a passion fruit and lemonade drink as he explains why piracy is so prevalent in the South African adult content market.

“The day [after we launched Mapona] it was available in the strangest locations across the country,” says Morena, “and up for sale for anything from R100 to R50 to R10, depending on the different sources of supply. We are pretty confident of the fact that the pirate market probably sold over 100,000 units.”

“[People can’t] justify purchasing [adult content]… With adult material, people see what they see, get their high and then they bugger off.”

Morena’s comments are reinforced by Arthur Calamaras, the creator of the ubiquitous Adult World sex shop chain.

“There is a big [pirate] market out there… [Morena’s] DVD was virtually completely destroyed from piracy.”

“You’ve got to remember the market that these guys are selling to can most probably only spend R25 to R50 a DVD. They’re never going to be able to go into an Adult World and buy a DVD,” says Calamaras. “But these new emerging guys, the middle class guys are getting the money to go into an Adult World and buy. And I suppose the middle class guys are living in middle class areas where you’re not getting every pirater in the country. Whereas these guys are going to every township and running riot and rampant because there’s nobody to enforce any laws in there. I suppose there’s a different category of where you are to what’s going to happen.”

While other media industries are given some level of protection against piracy, Morena says this is not the case for pornographers.

“That’s just unfortunately how it works in this country,” Morena shrugs. “It’s a jungle out there. It’s just too easy to replicate, you cannot recover your investment.”

Piracy’s stranglehold on the production of pornography in democratic South Africa comes, ironically, at a time when demand for such content is at an all-time high — and performers are often so eager to have sex on camera that they work for little to no money.

Following the success of Mapona Volume 1, Morena says he has been inundated by Facebook messages from hundreds of porn star hopefuls.

“I still have enquiries from people asking can I still join, can I do a production with you guys? I’ve got thousand of emails from guys, guys obviously outweigh girls…it’s like 90-10. Nonetheless, they’re willing. Some will tell you I’ll do it for free, whatever, just get me in there. The unfortunate part is that we just cannot afford to do it, that’s the unfortunate thing.”


Belle Toujours is the only white performer in Forbidden Times, an interracial porn film produced by Hustler South Africa. She speaks to me in an empty house in Boksburg, Gauteng — empty except for a bed. A 43-year-old mother who looks a decade younger, she describes herself as a high-class escort. Sitting across the table from me with fire-truck red, thigh-high PVC boots, platinum blonde hair and a cigarette in her hand, she looks like a film noir stereotype. Except she has a pink tongue ring.

She lifts up her dress to show me the portrait of Marilyn Monroe she has tattooed on her back. Monroe is her idol, she says, because “she’s forever beautiful… That’s what my name means by the way — forever beautiful.”

Starring in Forbidden Times was a “great experience… but it was fucking hard work,” she says, taking a drag of her menthol cigarette. She was paid R2,000 altogether to perform in the movie and to appear in a yet-to-be-released porn star reality series. This amount is the norm for porn actors, who are usually paid anywhere between R1,000 and R5,000 to subject themselves to the ultimate form of public scrutiny.

While proud to have performed in an interracial movie, Toujours says having sex with black men on camera was potentially damaging to her escort career.

“If I tell my clients that I’ve been in a porn and it was multiracial, they don’t show their shock but I know that they’re put off,” she says, running her finger along a ladder in her stocking. “We don’t do blacks here. We’re not allowed. I don’t mind, but you know what, your fucking Afrikaans, white culture they don’t want to know that a white girl is doing a black. The market drops if there’s blacks involved. Sadly there’s still a racist thing. Not all, but most are like that. Let’s say 95% are like that. But I don’t mind them. They’re still human beings.”

Poor payment means that being a porn star in South Africa requires a day job. And, while Toujours’ involvement with adult entertainment may not be palatable to certain of her clients, it hasn’t directly threatened her continued employment. For female performers who have chosen to earn a living in businesses not linked to the sex trade, however, their porn roles are often career-threatening secrets.

Leila Loupez is one such performer. When I interviewed her for this story, she made it clear that she didn’t want her day job to be revealed because she had carved a clear division between her “porn life” and her “real life”. A week after I spoke to her, she posted this status update on Facebook: “I am in deep trouble. I have to close this profile. I’ve lost my job because somebody told the company I work for what I do in my spare time”.

She went on to describe to her Facebook followers how someone close to her had told her boss about her part-time porn career, costing her her job and forcing her to move towns and find new schools for her children. Loupez’s Facebook profile is surprisingly easy to access and it makes no attempt to disguise what she gets up to in her spare time. It also reveals her ambivalent attitude to her porn career: semi-naked pictures of herself are posted below a status that reads: “this porn thing leads to nothing”.

When I speak to Loupez, she is less than complimentary about the pornography she has starred in.

“I think interracial is the future of South African porn, but to be honest with you, I find the quality of [South African porn] to be not very good. But I’ve got a plan, I’ve also got a dream of my own of how I think porn should actually be. The quality will be 100 times better than anything currently produced in South Africa. People from overseas think that South African porn is not good quality and I think we can make a very good quality movie that can actually sell not only in South Africa but internationally as well.”

Loupez won’t say what will make her pornography different from the variety she has starred in. “We’ll just have to wait and see”, she says.

She is working with Wors Voroso, the co-founder of the Soweto-based Mopako film company and a relatively new player in the production of pornography. He tells me that Wors is not his birth name, but a nickname that stuck “because I like to braai and watch sport on the weekends”. He’s been in the business of sex on film for less than a year and is far more optimistic about the future of the industry than Morena. He does, however, echo Morena’s views that the current distribution models used by the South African pornography industry simply aren’t working.

According to Morena: “The distribution model for this kind of material in this country hinders its progress and success. The biggest problem is that the people who were investing in this material only backed what they knew. If you don’t know [the black porn] market, you can’t invest in it.”

Morena believes that ignorance of the black market, rather than deliberate prejudice, has stymied the distribution of pornography in traditionally black areas.

“I don’t think there’s been any kind of intent or any kind of conspiracy,” says Morena, “you know like ‘let’s keep black people out of this, you know they’ll lose their minds if they see porn’. You can go to any township, you can go to any taxi rank, you’ll find porn from years ago.”

Voroso agrees.

“Getting our product out there has been the difficult part because there’s only one distributor,” says Voroso. “As a result, people really find it hard to find our products. There’s not enough outlets, there’s not enough stores, not enough distributors. We’re looking to get into distribution too, so that we don’t have problems with people getting our stuff.”


The sole distributor of pornography in South Africa is JT Publishing, which is owned and run by a man many consider to be the godfather of the adult content industry in South Africa: Joe Theron. Well-groomed and smartly dressed with close-cropped grey hair, Theron is not the stereotypical porn king. But he is the man credited for bringing commercial sexual content to South Africa.

Theron began his career publishing music magazines and running premium rate phone lines. In December 1992 the lucrative phone lines were abolished so Theron needed to find a new source of income. The success of phone sex lines such as ‘confessions of an escort’ didn’t go unnoticed by Theron. “People were phoning in to listen to this shit and I thought, ‘Shit this country needs a sex magazine. These people are sex starved.’”

Theron was determined to bring American adult magazine Hustler to South Africa but couldn’t get a meeting with the publication’s infamous owner Larry Flynt. After stalking Flynt for several days, Theron was able to establish when the wheelchair-bound tycoon would be rolled into the lift that took him to his high-rise office. He waited for Flynt to arrive at the lift and stepped inside, introducing himself with the words: “Mr Flynt, I want to bring Hustler to South Africa but I couldn’t get a meeting with you”.

According to Theron, the introduction sparked a conversation that continued in Flynt’s office. After agreeing to give Theron the rights to publish Hustler in South Africa, Flynt invited him to spend the remainder of his time in Los Angeles at his home. It was there that Theron would agree to make supper for Flynt and his guests — and, while gesturing to his audience, would accidentally knock roller towel onto a lit gas hob. Theron managed to put the flame out within seconds, but clearly enjoys telling people that he nearly burnt Larry Flynt’s mansion to the ground.

Under Theron, Hustler SA became the biggest selling magazine in the country (after Huisgenoot), selling nearly 200,000 copies a month. From Hustler, another 10-15 adult magazines found their place in JT Publishing’s stable and contributed to 25% of RNA’s total annual turnover.

“We were printing money,” Theron says, “but we were in court every single month and in the first year, every single issue was banned, but of course it just created more publicity.”

“When the censorship board banned the magazine, I thought, ‘Who the fuck are the censorship board and what are they banning the magazine for?’”

Theron’s run-ins with the apartheid censorship board were numerous, and, when the board was abolished in the mid-1990s, he collaborated directly with the Film and Publication Board (FPB), the new body created in 1996 to classify material deemed to be potentially harmful to children.

While the restrictions imposed by the apartheid censorship board did nothing to dent Hustler’s impressive sales figures, Theron says the FPB has effectively stymied his business with rules he says are “completely senseless”.

“It’s about time someone goes and rattles their cage because they have lost the plot. I don’t even bother with them any more. The censorship they’re imposing on magazines is absolutely ridiculous. I’ve stopped printing Hustler as a result of it.”

Theron says he registers all his material with the FPB because, as he explains, when material is above board it can be controlled.

“If you ban it and you try push it underground then that’s when you do get all the sickos and the child pornography and all that shit.”

Theron argues that the FPB is targeting the wrong people in the legitimate fight against child pornography and bestiality. With the availability of porn on the internet, Theron believes trying to censor magazines in South Africa is pointless.

“Guys, what are you trying to do? The kids don’t even read bloody magazines any more, they’re on to the internet now.”

Prince Mlimandlela Ndamase, spokesman for the Film and Publication Board, denies that the Board is intent on shutting down adult content businesses. He goes on to say that the FPB is more than happy to listen to the industry’s concerns when formulating classification guidelines.

When I ask him what it takes for something to be defined as pornography, he answers “something that’s pornographic I suppose”. He then refers me to the FPB’s classification guidelines, which state that any content containing “a visual presentation, simulated or real, of explicit sexual conduct which, in the case of sexual intercourse, includes an explicit visual presentation of genitals” falls under a X18 classification. What this means is that sellers of such content — including magazines — must then ensure that it is inaccessible to children under 18 and is only available in sex shops. Failure to comply may result in hefty fines for offending sellers.

The FPB insists its raison d’être lies in protecting children from the trauma of exposure to disturbing or sexually explicit content. But it has recently come under fire for its decision to become involved in the political spat over artist Brett Murray’s controversial artwork “The Spear”. The painting appears to depict President Jacob Zuma, with his genitals exposed, in a stance that imitated Vladimir Lenin. While the FPB insisted that it wasn’t allowing itself to be used to score political points for the ANC, board member Mmapula Fisha told a media briefing that The Spear “isn’t just any art work”. In contradiction to the Board’s own aims to classify material according to strict objective criteria, she pointed out that the Board was conscious that The Spear had caused members of the public to deface art and “forced a gallery to close”.

At a press conference in a plush Rosebank hotel, Fisha and her fellow board members announced that The Spear had been slapped with a no under 16s age restriction — two levels below being classified as pornography. While the FPB maintains that classification will withstand legal scrutiny, it may not have predicted the damage its rating of a painting has done to its reputation as a bastion of clear-headed morality in the fight against child pornography.

Theron says he cannot blame the FPB alone for the dramatic decrease in the Hustler sales figures over the years. He explains that the novelty of this type of material has been lost. “I grew up in a period where everyone was deprived and that is why Hustler became such a big magazine. Once people got it our sales didn’t go from 200,000 to 500,000, our sales went from 200,000 to 20,000. If alcohol was banned the sales would increase because people would be going around corners to get it and if they got it they’d glug it down and go on the hunt for the next bottle.”

While vocally supportive of the FPB’s attempts to tackle child pornography and bestiality, Calamaras concedes that the Board’s stringent classification guidelines have had a detrimental effect on the adult magazine industry.

“I think this is where the FPB has been too effective. A lot of the adult magazine industry has virtually been wiped out because of the toughness of their classification laws. Playboy should be allowed to be sold because there’s nothing really in it, but because it’s tucked away in the far corner on the top shelf that affects sales. Even Hustler, they had a thriving magazine industry, now they’ve got no industry at all.”


While Theron and Calamaras arguably may be the old guard of the South African adult content industry, they both appear not to have any opposition to the growing wave of black South African pornographers.

“Ja, [the black porn market] will definitely grow,” says Theron. “I think there’s still huge potential there.”

“There have been more and more black people coming into the stores,” Calamaras explains. “They’re now obviously dictating the direction of the type of movies we’re buying. We’re catering more and more towards that market.”

“Even I didn’t think [South African porn movies] would do that well. I honestly didn’t think there was a market of local stuff that could be sold. But the local South African stuff sold, and it sold, and it sold.”

Calamaras maintains there is also a growing interracial porn market in South Africa. “Ah, yeah, it’s doing really well. Black on white. Even the black on black DVD market is growing every single day. Far more than your white on white. Yeah, it’s really big.”

He admits he is baffled as to why more local films are not being produced. “I really don’t understand why because we’ve moved huge quantities of product through the stores. I thought it would’ve been quite profitable for them. These guys seem to do well, but as quickly as they come up, they vanish.”

But Theron says there really is no mystery as to why the South African porn movie industry has failed to take off.

Theron explains that for R100,000 a wholesaler could buy 5,000 overseas DVDs, across the range, and distribute them throughout South Africa. They’ll be able to target a larger market with their varied product and will be able to recoup their costs faster. In light of these figures, the incentive to produce locally seems non-existent.

He also believes that many aspirant pornographers have no idea about how the industry actually operates.

“People think that because it’s sex it’s going to sell. It’s not. It’s probably the most difficult industry to survive in if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

Patrick Meyer, general manager of JT Publishing, claims that on top of this, the South African market can be fickle. “The novelty’s worn off. When we did the first Afrikaans movie we couldn’t keep up. We sold nearly 2,000 units at Sexpo in four days. It was huge. Mapona sold about 7,000. We’ve had other black movies come out since and they’ve sold like 2,000.”

The economic reality is that the South African porn market is tiny by comparison to its American and European counterparts. The local market may attempt to match local demand, but it simply cannot compete against porn super factories like San Fernando Valley in the USA.

Despite this, however, porn producers like Wors Voroso are adamant that there are local markets that can’t get what they want from cut-and-paste American porn — and are hungry for material that is discernibly African.

According to Voroso, Mopako isn’t looking to set up in competition to JT Publishing. Instead, he says, the company wants to partner with JT Publishing to reach markets it may previously have neglected.

“Which means they’re going to give us their products they’re selling, their black stuff. Their stuff they are selling that has to do with black markets, they’re going to give to us. So we’re looking to work with them. I think [JT Publishing] are doing a lot, but I don’t know really if they know exactly what’s happening in the black market, you know. But they told me themselves, [that] most people who are ordering from their website (loslyf.co.za) are black people.”

It’s a viewpoint that Morena strongly supports.

“There’s a huge disconnect between the industry, as an industry, and its financial possibilities. If you’ve got two, maybe three million people in a township like Soweto, the closest adult store from Soweto is somewhere in Booysens, which is 20 odd kilometres out of Soweto. So you’ve got two million consumers that have nowhere to buy the product.”

Morena argues that missed opportunities such as this are replicated all over the country. “In Rosebank you’ve got a sex store, in Sandton you’ve got one, and up towards town you’ve got one in every suburb. But how many people are actually living in those suburbs? In the whole of Sandton you won’t even find 50,000 people. 50,000 people aren’t going to rush into that store…”

I ask Calamaras about his response to Voroso and Morena’s critique when I meet him at his headquarters in Sandton, Johannesburg.

“South Africa is not geared towards people going and opening up sex stores. South Africa is a concentration camp,” he answers. “And your shops are controlled by big conglomerates that really do not cater for an Adult World for fear of causing any sort of controversy,”

And that fear of controversy may be behind another of the South African adult industry’s multiple problems: its lack of a visible and vocal champion. While the international porn industry seems to encourage idol worship with larger than life personas like Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson, no such cult of personality exists in South Africa.

Those within the industry insist that this anonymity is a conscious business choice, rather than an attempt to avoid being a target for moral outrage.

“I’ve distinctly remained anonymous,” says Morena, “primarily because I don’t want to create a culture that I am who I am. I’m not a Hugh Hefner, I’m not a Larry Flynt, I’m none of that.”

“When you start flipping the table and it becomes about you as the individual, then it loses its essence. It becomes about you being that brand. And brand recognition doesn’t have to be about personal recognition. I always look at Hugh Hefner, and I might be wrong, but he looks like a person who’s trapped in a business. He’s a prisoner of his brand.”

South African adult entertainment may find its champion in Voroso, an Afda film school graduate who has big plans for where he wants to take local porn. His primary aim, he says, is to steer the industry away from American porn cliches.

“I can’t have a guy coming out of nowhere in a scene to deliver a pizza,” says Voroso. “We’re in South Africa. These things are not relevant to us.”

Born and raised in Soweto, Voroso is in his late twenties and has an energetic enthusiasm seemingly better suited to a television evangelist than a pornographer.

Mopako (which is a South African term for voluptuous and desirable women) is a four-person film production company predominantly involved in professional television and documentary work, with a porn production project on the side. Voroso originally wanted to produce movies but was deterred by the red tape and the sluggish nature of South African feature film production. Seeing an unexploited niche in the adult market, Voroso grabbed the chance to use porn as an unlikely vehicle for his artistic expression.

Because of his background as an Afda film school graduate, Voroso is very particular about what he wants his films to convey.

“We’re trying to be unique and different. We’re trying to run away from international porn because we think it’s dirty and demeans women. We really want to change the way people see South African porn, to change the mindset. We’re trying to promote a healthy sexual lifestyle, we’re trying to promote condoms, we’re trying to promote Africanism — that Africa has sex. The whole of Africa from Cape to Cairo.”

“When we say we want to implement Africanism, it’s not that we want to show shacks… It’s about ubuntu in our culture. We’re doing hectic research into Boere culture, Tswana culture, Vendas, Shangaans and what not. We’re trying to implement all those elements in one movie so when it comes out people can appreciate what they’re seeing.”

Voroso wants his films to be about more than just sex.

“We might tap into things such The Spear or DA or ANC. We’re trying to keep it South African as much as we can, so braaied wors and using Afrikaans, Sotho, Zulu. Cultural clothing. Zulu attire, all that. Our performers need to know how to act because there’s going to be story line, there’s going to be dialogue.”

Voroso stresses that his next big project — a film he describes as “hardcore interracial” — will be “female friendly… Not your dirty stuff”. And he isn’t alone in his conscious attempt to please the female market.

According to Morena: “There is a female market and partially what we are doing now is attending to that market. The female market is naturally more subdued, they’re not quite out there like guys are. When we did our DVD for example, there were no cum shots, no slapping, so we try to make it as female friendly as possible.”

Calamaras claims that the whole adult market in South Africa is reshaping to cater to the influx of female customers. “I’ve never seen so many women and couples come into a store in my life as in South Africa. They seem to have embraced it in a much more positive way than a negative way, and they’ve embraced it very quickly.”

“[At Sexpo, the annual sexual lifestyle expo,] over 50% of the people who walk through the doors are female. And most of the rest are couples.”

Theron agrees: “Chicks today want sex more than guys want it.”


Once the almost exclusive playground of white males, South African pornography must make itself desirable to audiences it previously ignored: women and an increasingly sexually adventurous black middle-class. In the face of inhospitable market conditions, rampant piracy and unpredictable regulation, it has no choice.

Democracy has finally made its way into the previously politically lopsided geography of South African pornography. The landscape has been irreparably, irreversibly, and undeniably changed.

What routes will our fantasies take now? And, more importantly, is our society ready to draw the maps?

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