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Six men appeared in the Musina Magistrate’s Court in Limpopo on Monday on 47 charges of kidnapping each.
The suspects were arrested in Polokwane on Saturday on suspicion of human trafficking after police conducted a series of sting operations, eventually rescuing 47 kidnapped Ethiopians men.
Police spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said he believed the victims “were destined to allegedly slave in different parts of the province”.
Fafidali Ali, 36, Aschaldi Alimo, 27, Malgesku Store, 29, Mandeni Sorach, 22, Eshgu Shesr, 26, and Keede Alimo, 34, were not asked to plead and their case was adjourned until next Monday, pending further police investigations.
The five Ethiopians and one Indian remain in custody.
Chandre Gould, who has researched human trafficking extensively for the Institute for Security Studies, said she had never heard of slavery cases in SA. “We have exploited labour conditions, but not slavery,” she said. Gould said smuggled migrants were sometimes held as a result of “debt bondage”, which meant they must work without pay until they had paid their smugglers for transporting services.
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, head of the Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme at Lawyers for Human Rights, said they mostly see women being trafficked.
“Humans trafficking occurs for labour or sex work… (For labour), people are sold to homes or farms. Once someone is sold, they are treated like a slave, not an employee,” she said.
Keogh said the victims were mostly foreigners.
“In their country of origin, they are promised job opportunities in South Africa. But they are not told of the conditions of work.
“When they arrive, they are told they owe large sums of money for their transport and upkeep. It takes some years to pay it back,” she said.
Keogh said the system revolved around keeping people at a subservient level.