Slavery is alive and right on our doorsteps!

Slavery is alive and right on our doorsteps!Pinky Ramokoka

If you think slavery ended in the 1800s, then think again. These days we may call it “human trafficking” but all it means is the exploitation of human beings for sexual purposes, forced labour and servitude.

It reminds us of South Africa’s first know case of human trafficking – the Khoisan woman, Saartjie Baartman, who was removed from her environment and taken by ship to London in 1810 where she was paraded to a curious public as the “Hottentots’ Venus” because of her “uncommon” physical characteristics.

She was lost within a strange culture that neither respected nor understood her. She turned to prostitution. Her experience of deception and cross-border transportation for commercial exploitation is common to millions of women and children all over the world.

The scenario is simple – potential targets are often lured by the prospect of employment and financial gain.

Often they are completely misled as to the nature of their employment conditions. (See Nthabi’s story)Once outside their environment, they are trapped, disadvantaged by their foreign surroundings and enmeshed in the illegal migration underworld.

They are then forced into sex work or other labour that will earn profits for their kidnappers. They are guarded, subjected to violence and usually relieved of their identity documents.

Possibilities of escaping are slim.Currently there is no comprehensive legislation that addresses human trafficking in this country. Various legislation referring to child welfare and sexual offences is used to prosecute.

But conviction rates are low and offenders often receive only a monetary fine.South Africa is an ideal port for this crime given our high rate of unemployment, the general instability of this part of the continent and the fact that we are traditionally a country which practises migrant labour.

The impact of HIV/Aids has also led to many more women seeking employment.Traditional migratory customs as well as new patterns of migration influenced by Aids, have placed South Africa at a higher risk of exploitation, especially by traffickers who use employment promises and opportunity to recruit.

With the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup on the horizon, trafficking has the potential to increase. Big events are usually timed when demand for certain services goes up and those engaged in trafficking will work to meet those demands. Let’s hope South Africa will be able to create a massive campaign to ensure trafficking will be kept in check.

It happened to herNthabi comes from a rural village called Mmica in the North West Province. She lives with her sick mother, two sisters and twin brothers.

She last attended school full-time in grade 7. When Kgomotso, an older family friend, invited her to come and work for her in Johannesburg, the family jumped at the opportunity. She left for Johannesburg with Kgomotso shortly after her 17th birthday in June 2005.

When they reached the big city, Kgomotso led her to a restaurant and told her she had to pick up her boyfriend from work. She ordered a soft drink for Nthabi and told her to wait until she came back.

After three hours Nthabi became anxious. She asked one of the bar attendants to help find her friend. He took her to a back room, told her to wait there and left, locking the door behind him. Soon afterwards, six men came into the room and raped her.

Nthabi never saw Kgomotso again.Nthabi can’t recall exactly how many days she was kept in the room. But she was raped many more times by different men.

When she was finally released from the back room, she was told she would be working as a prostitute in the bar since Kgomotso had sold her to the bar owner. She would be given food as payment but was warned that if she tried to escape, her family would be hurt as punishment.

To drive his point home, the bar attendant showed her photocopies of photos of her sisters and brothers that she had brought with her.She worked as a prostitute for three years before the bar owner was arrested for drug dealing and the police told her she was free to go home.

One of the officers offered to take her to a NGO which assists young women in her position. After some counseling, she returned home. She has since started a small business venture farming and selling vegetables to the local market.


Numsa News