Saved from traf­fick­ers

SA woman res­cued in Malaysia af­ter big joint op­er­a­tion

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - KHAYA KOKO AND LEBOGANG SEALE

AVISIBLY trau­ma­tised South African woman res­cued from a hu­man traf­fick­ing syn­di­cate that lured her to Asia with the prom­ise of lu­cra­tive mod­el­ling con­tracts landed safely at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port late yes­ter­day.

Po­lice Min­is­ter Fik­ile Mbalula, who was at the air­port to wel­come Princess Mahlangu, vowed that more ar­rests would be made in ad­di­tion to the Zimbabwean na­tional said to be part of the syn­di­cate.

Mbalula said the 24-year-old woman was “trau­ma­tised”.

“There has been an ar­rest of a Zimbabwean in Malaysia and more ar­rests will be made,” Mbalula said.

He added that there was also “a Nige­rian (na­tional) in­volved” in the traf­fick­ing, whom he re­ferred to as “the co-or­di­na­tor”.

The head of the Hawks, Gen­eral Yolisa Matakata, also con­firmed the ar­rest and said they were still work­ing with the Malaysian au­thor­i­ties to ap­pre­hend more sus­pects prey­ing on vul­ner­a­ble young women.

The joint op­er­a­tion be­tween the po­lice, Hawks, In­ter­pol and Malaysian au­thor­i­ties, res­cued 14 women from 14 dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

Mbalula and Matakata said although they did not have the statis­tics of South African traf­fic vic­tims read­ily avail­able, the coun­try was tight­en­ing its bor­ders and ac­tively purs­ing the syn­di­cates to com­bat the scourge.

Mbalula said: “A lot of women come from out­side South Africa and are traf­ficked here for var­i­ous rea­sons.

“We have closed down broth­els, even in Sand­ton, where we have found (traf­ficked women). They come here un­der the pre­text of greener pas­tures,” Mbalula added.

Mahlangu’s re­lieved fa­ther was also at the air­port to wel­come his daugh­ter, but her mother stayed home as she was “not feel­ing well”, Mbalula said.

The Bloem­fontein woman had left South Africa for Malaysia af­ter she was lured with prom­ises of mega prizes in beauty pageants, mod­el­ling and a great life.

Other vic­tims res­cued from the syn­di­cate came from coun­tries such as Bar­ba­dos, the US, the Philippines and Thai­land.

Mahlangu’s close friend, who asked to re­main anony­mous, de­tailed the har­row­ing con­ver­sa­tions he had with the vic­tim af­ter she re­alised that she had been taken to Malaysia un­der false pre­tences.

The friend told The Star he be­came wor­ried when Mahlangu sent him a mes­sage say­ing she was wor­ried that she was be­ing traf­ficked.

“She (South African woman) sent me a What­sApp mes­sage on Mon­day night, say­ing: ‘I’m in trou­ble, can you check with the travel agency if they could move my re­turn ticket to an ear­lier date’?

“I asked her what signs (of traf­fick­ing) she had picked up. She said she would talk to me when it was safe.

“I asked her to send me her (travel) itin­er­ary,” the friend said.

The man said he told her to im­me­di­ately con­tact the South African Em­bassy in Malaysia.

“Be­fore she left, we spoke about the im­por­tance of know­ing the South African em­bassies in the coun­tries one is trav­el­ling to. Be­fore she boarded the plane, she asked me to send her the em­bassy’s num­bers.”

The friend added: “She later sent me a mes­sage that ‘this guy says we must go to a night­club and I be­came sus­pi­cious, be­cause he was act­ing strangely’.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mbalula, swift ac­tion by the SAPS, the Hawks and In­ter­pol saved the woman from the clutches of the traf­fick­ers.

Mbalula said the SAPS had on Wed­nes­day re­ceived in­for­ma­tion that a South African woman was the vic­tim of hu­man traf­fick­ing in Malaysia.

The min­is­ter said he im­me­di­ately alerted the SAPS, In­ter­pol and the Hawks and asked them to in­ves­ti­gate.

“In­deed, they found that a sus­pected case of in­ter­na­tional hu­man traf­fick­ing was in progress in Malaysia, where at least 14 fe­males from 14 coun­tries had been conned into a fake in­ter­net model com­pe­ti­tion,” Mbalula told The Star on Sat­ur­day.

The close friend of the South African woman said she was in­tro­duced to the man she met in Malaysia by a woman in Bloem­fontein, who posed as di­rec­tor of a mod­el­ling agency or a re­lated busi­ness.

“My friend nor­mally en­ters beauty pageants and she was in­tro­duced to the guy by this woman who said she was a di­rec­tor. It was the first time that she had met the man in Malaysia,” the friend said.

Mahlangu’s friend said: It’s been a week of hell. I’m so re­lieved my friend will be back soon,”he added.

Lured by mod­el­ling con­tracts and a great life

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