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City Life: Johannesburg - World's first brothel for the ladies opens

AT ABOUT 3pm yesterday in South Africa - Women's Day, a public holiday - a group of women arrived to whoop it up at Johannesburg's House of Spartacus.

Because of the occasion this group - a hen party - was being feted with a package of drinks, snacks, chat and music, plus male strippers, "adult Tupperware party" and "much, much more". In the post-Chippendales world, where public displays of unbridled female lust are regarded as positively character-forming, this might seem unremarkable.

But the boys - of all races - at House of Spartacus, who were lounging by the swimming pool while they waited for the "clients" - again of all races - to arrive, do not just go the Full Monty. For a cash consideration, they'll take a lady into one of the six en-suite bedrooms and show her Patton, Rommel and Stormin' Norman as well.

"We don't like using this word `brothel'," says Martin, one of three men who opened House of Spartacus in the upmarket suburb of Houghton five months ago. "This is a guest house. We have parties and we also hire out rooms, it could be by the month, the day or even the hour."

Nobody is quite sure, but Spartacus might just be the first full-on brothel for heterosexual women on the planet. Tony, 32, who has been in the business on and off for more than 10 years, has never heard of anything like it. Nor has Joe, the manager, a male stripper and porn star best known as the star of the film Africa Rising II.

According to Tony, "I'm a gigolo, and there have always been gigolos. You go to a bar and you mingle with the women and maybe one of them asks you to go home with her. Then you explain that you would like to but that you are a gigolo and you charge a fee... Here the women come to you."

Wayne, a professional male stripper, agrees. "I've been stripping for years but I've never known anywhere where women come up to you afterwards and want to meet you... you know, for bucks... They know they can go into the bar and get it for free."

Mornay, 24, a hulking former Springboks Under-21 rugby player, has just returned from Britain, where his computer firm went bust. He has been in the business three weeks and slept with two women for cash.

Most of the other women he has been with, he says, simply want to talk or have a massage. Most are attractive, wealthy businesswomen, young or in early middle age - "Jeez, man, a lot of these women are beautiful!" - either unattached or unsatisfied.

Although uncomplicated sexuality is meant to be the lure, several, he says, have rung back the next day - they do tend to be more amorous than men would be in the same position, he reckons. While he is determined to be a gentleman (and the gigolos do always insist on using condoms), the job is about cash, not complications: his Irish girlfriend of five years still hasn't asked him what his new earner is, and he still isn't sure what he will tell her when she does.

According to Tony, sex costs between 300 and 700 Rand (pounds 31 and pounds 73), though it can go up to 5,000 Rand if the customer wants him to stay over. He too wants the cash to revive a failed business. But men being how they are, does the job ever prove too, well, demanding?

He may or may not have understood the question. "It's a little difficult at times... After 10 years in the business I myself have had maybe three really gross women. Other than that the women who come to me are really health conscious. They do aerobics. They are hot women and they are looking for a hot man."

Martin, the owner, says that perhaps 80 per cent of the women want fun or diversion, rather than straight sex.

"Maybe nobody decides to book a room, but a lot of them come to a hen party or office party and you have maybe a couple staying on or phoning later and returning," he says. That some do want to pay for sex is, he says, a clear sign of the triumph of feminism.

"Gents have been having it for all these years, it's about time somebody did something for the ladies."

But the women of South Africa, it seems, may be changing faster than the men. As they wait in the doorway for their customers to arrive, Tony and Wayne mutter darkly about a potential rat in the House of Spartacus. Some of the boys, it is suspected, may be doing it for free.