By Zaahidah Meyer
Human trafficking is real, hidden in plain sight and tearing at the social fabric of the nation, as the demand for cheap labour and sexual services grows. Human trafficking refers to the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labour, sexual slavery or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others.
Another case of three men who were saved by authorities from human traffickers has emerged. On Tuesday, Hawks stated that over the weekend, three men, between the ages of 21 and 22, were freed from two alleged human traffickers. Captain Philani Nkwalase said that the young men were allegedly picked up, by a taxi driver, at their homes in the Northern Cape, after being lured by the promise of work in Cape Town.
Upon arrival in Cape Town, they were dropped off at the location of the alleged recruiter. According to reports, the young men were then sold to a businessman in Athlone. The men, who wanted to go home when they realised that they had been duped, were told to pay back incurred costs first before they would be able to return home.
This is just one in hundreds of stories of human trafficking. It has been speculated that Cape Town appears to be the biggest retailer in human trafficking. Case Worker for the National Freedom Network, Marcel van de Watt said that human trafficking works on the principles of supply and demand however, no evidence has pointed to Cape Town being the capital of this issue. He further added that no province is exonerated from being involved or used as a platform for human trafficking.
When asked as to whether the rise in unemployment in South Africa opens the floodgates for human traffickers, van de Watt said: “We need to acknowledge that vulnerability is a common denominator in any and every human trafficking case. There are different forms of vulnerability but we live in a country with a sad history and that history is still persistent in many ways. We are dealing with structural inequality, a lack of education and opportunities.”
The current trends in human trafficking was discussed earlier this week at workshop under the theme: “Responding to the trafficking of children and young people”. The event also marked the commemoration of the World Day against Trafficking in Persons and was hosted by the Justice Department.
The public event was also attended by local organizations against human trafficking including members of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) partnering with the Justice Department under the auspices of the Global Action against Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants Programme.
Van de Watt said that viewing trafficking through the lens of prostitution and sexual exploitation alone is problematic but also points to the lack of understanding as to what trafficking actually is. He further added that society sometimes become fixated on sex trafficking without realising that there are various other forms of trafficking, especially in the Western Cape. Some people are trafficked for underpaid or unpaid labour, illegal mining or domestic servitude.
Van de Watt said that there is unfortunately a single mindset when viewing trafficked victims. He said they are viewed as prostitutes and this is why further investigation and understanding into the actual case is rare.
There has been very little research into the prevalence or patterns of human trafficking in South Africa. In part this is because it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain any accurate information about the real extent of criminal activities that go undetected. Most available quantitative research relies on the arrest and conviction of human traffickers.