Province targeted by traffickers
Young girls, boys and women from vulnerable backgrounds preyed upon
The Eastern Cape is in “big trouble” when it comes to human trafficking.
That is the view of some of SA’s leading experts on the subject, who say the province’s poor economic status makes it an ideal hunting ground for syndicates both from within and outside of the country’s borders.
As a much-publicised human trafficking case continues in the Komani regional court, organisations have revealed that they are constantly being called upon to investigate cases where young women, in particular, are being lured by people masquerading as potential employers.
The experts subscribe to the UN definition of human trafficking, which is the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception or abuse of power”.
In the Komani court, four Whittlesea women - Xolelwa Garhishe, Yolanda Klaas, Zintle Tom and Nwabisa Kaziwa - are accused of allegedly trafficking a 12-year-old girl and selling her for sex in 2016. They have denied being involved in the alleged crime.
Their co-accused, Harum Mohammed, is charged with allegedly raping the child. All have pleaded not guilty to the charges. This is not the only recent high-profile trafficking case in the Eastern Cape. In 2018, the Hawks and Interpol rescued 22-year-old Saphetha Mabona, of Peddie, at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg as she was being smuggled out of the country by human traffickers.
Mabona was told she was going to work in a beauty parlour in Uganda for six months but Hawks and Interpol investigations revealed the establishment was not a beauty parlour but a “restaurant”.
Furthermore, she never received a work permit despite being promised by her “employers” that she would be able to work for six months in Uganda.
One of those who assisted in that investigation was Petros Majola, of the Peddiebased Khula Community Development Project, who believes these cases are only the tip of the iceberg for the Eastern Cape.
“To be honest, the province is in big trouble when it comes to trafficking.
“Because of unemployment, young people are looking to grab any opportunity [for a job] that comes along, and will believe it’s genuine even if it’s not,” he said.
“Some of the traffickers are from outside the country, but they also work with local people so they can sell people into prostitution, cheap labour or to be used in the drug trade. The locals will be used to identify where the victim lives, who they live with, when they go to school.”
New-appointed social development MEC Siphokazi Mani-Lusithi said the province had “unacceptable reports of child and women trafficking”.
“In our province, this scourge also manifests in subtle forms, including ukuthwala [forced marriages],” she said.
“We have been hard in working with other state and community institutions to nullify the practice of forced marriages.”
While more young women were trafficked, young boys were too, Majola said.
“There is no doubt that some males are used in the production of pornography, but in other African countries they are used as child soldiers, so that is also a possibility.”
One of the big challenges, Majola said, was convincing poor rural families that not every job or scholarship opportunity offered to their children was genuine.
Majola said an increasing number of rural people were becoming more aware about the real reason for questionable job offers, but there was still a long way to go.
“It’s now a constant for us to get calls about potential trafficking situations, whether their children are being approached in person or via text message,” she said.
Jameel Essop, founder of the South African non-profit Stop Human Trafficking Now, said in the Eastern Cape, girls as young as 10 were being trafficked for sexual and marriage purposes, as well as labour.