Elucidating the reality of human trafficking in South Africa

Photo by Kat Jayne

Whereas most crimes are generally reported to the police, trafficking is not, mainly because victims fear retaliation. Thus, exact statistics on human trafficking are not available anywhere in the world. But one thing is for sure; trafficking is an indisputable and systemic reality in South Africa. This is according to Prof Beatri Kruger, Research Fellow in the Centre for Human Rights at the University of the Free State.

Prof Kruger’s research on human trafficking spans a decade, and she said as human trafficking gets more public attention, more cases are coming to the fore.  “This is a good thing, because if you know the enemy and the modus operandi, you won’t be misled easily.”

Prof Kruger said for the past five years, South Africa has been classified as a country of origin, transit, and destination for trafficking by the annual US Trafficking in Persons Reports.

An increasing number of trafficking convictions

What this means is that victims are trafficked from South Africa to other countries; foreign victims are moved through the country to other areas for exploitation, while foreign victims are also brought from elsewhere in the world to the country as their final destination.

“The trafficking reality is not based on speculation. We have solid evidence that there is a very serious problem,” Prof Kruger said. According to police statistics, a significant number of 2 132 cases of human trafficking were reported to the SAPS under the current Trafficking Act from 2015 to 2017. Also, apart from five empirical doctorate studies, this reality is further confirmed by an increasing number of trafficking convictions in our courts.

Prof Kruger said these convictions provide significant insights into human trafficking in South Africa. Firstly, victims are seldom being kidnapped and taken by force. Instead, traffickers prefer to trick and trap victims by misleading them with false promises of a better life. Court cases exposed that many are misled by fabricated well-paid jobs or educational opportunities.

The cases further reveal how traffickers submit their victims to various forms of exploitation. Aldina dos Santos [S v Dos Santos [2018 1 SACR 20 (GP)] was sentenced to life imprisonment for cunningly transporting Mozambican girls to her Gauteng residence, where they were forced to use drugs and perform sexual services to multiple paying clients. The court further imposed eight life sentences on Loyd Mabuza [S v Lloyd Mabuza 2018 2 SACR 54 (GP)] for holding four Mozambican girls between the ages of 10 and 16 captive as sex slaves for three years in the Sabi district. In S v Matini [case no. RC 123/2013 EC)], several South African victims, including mentally challenged girls, were sexually exploited in a brothel near Port Elizabeth. The two female traffickers in S v Seleso [case no. SS45/2018 (GJ)], who forced an orphaned girl into prolonged online sexual exploitation, were each sentenced to 19 life sentences.

Convictions were also secured in other forms of exploitation, such as labour trafficking. In Mpumalanga, a boy of only six years old was forced into child labour. In the Pinetown area, children were provided at a price in illegal adoption scams: some children were sold for up to R15 000.  Babies were also commodified and traded – in KwaZulu-Natal, a mother even advertised her baby on Gumtree for R5 000. “In most cases, there were either multiple victims, multiple traffickers, or both, and multiple places of exploitation.”

Prof Kruger said there is still a need for more empirical research on the prevalence of all forms of human trafficking. She is currently involved in a comprehensive research project focusing on human trafficking in South Africa.

Assisting the public

Despite the challenges to combat trafficking, several milestones are also worth celebrating, she said. There is a toll-free 24/7 national human trafficking hotline available to assist the public, the National Freedom Network consists of vetted individuals and more than 70 organisations joining forces to combat trafficking, while important counter-trafficking information is available at www.nationalfreedomnetwork.co.za, and successful prosecutions are increasing, to name just a few.

Tips to keep you safe:

-Do not believe everything you read on social media. Evaluate and verify the source, time, and date before believing it or sending it on to others.

-Have a code that you share with your family and friends that you can use to alert them if you are in danger.

– Remember that there is safety in numbers. Do not walk or jog alone in secluded areas.

– If a trafficker attempts to grab you, make a scene so that other people can notice.

– Alert especially students to employment scams – verify job offers by calling the Trafficking Hotline.

– Report any suspicion of trafficking to the police, and also to the Trafficking Hotline.

If you need information or help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline on 0800 222 777.