The recruits, aged between 18 and 30, aspired to be in the army, but ended up doing house chores and maintenance coupled with intimate favours for the man known as “The General”. The recruits were also starved and denied access to proper accommodation.
Young, desperate and far from home the recruits, mostly from KwaZulu-Natal, said they had lived in untenable conditions for over a year with the hope of being integrated into the SANDF.
The man, identified as a Mr Ndaba, ran a recruitment agency, known as Amabutho Royal Defence, apparently to lure victims from churches and taxi ranks across the country.
“The General” demanded R800 for transportation to Pretoria and a T-shirt. He told potential recruits they would get a salary of R13 000 a month and an opportunity to study further.
The group confined its illegal activities to a house in Karen Park where all 260 recruits lived together. They shared a three-bedroomed house with one bathroom, used two Wendy houses, with males and female sleeping in one space. Some slept in the kitchen, passages, dining room and lounge, it emerged.
The house was being rented by The General, but when he fell behind on rent, they were kicked out on to the street and had been sleeping outside since Thursday last week.
When the Pretoria News arrived at the house on Tuesday, the recruits were confused and milling around. Around them were mountains of blankets, clothes and toiletries all over the pavement.
They said they sometimes had to endure gruelling army exercises on empty stomachs and without proper uniforms or equipment.
“We wake up 1am and do drill exercises, sleep and at 5am we are splashed with cold water to get up for push-ups and registration,” one recruit said.
They also had field exercises or full-scale rehearsals of military manoeuvres as practice for warfare.
After completing the exercises the recruits were forced to clean the house, paint the walls and even do plumbing and pavement installations.
The General then solicited favours from female recruits like massages. He also groped them and hey had them rub his feet and back.
Every month the recruits had to pay for accommodation and food, but were almost always hungry.
One of the neighbours, who preferred not to be named, said the problem had been going on since 2015. Every time she tried to report it to police it fell on deaf ears.
She searched for the recruitment agency on the internet and couldn’t find anything.
She described the daily activities as horrendous and cruel. “In the mornings we heard the young people marching and sometimes screaming from the beatings. It has been unbearable,” she said.
Home owner Kate Msomi, said when she leased the house to The General, she was under the impression it was just for his family; not 250 people.
Msomi, based in Durban, said she had no idea what was going on in her house. “The problems started when he stopped paying in February. He owes me R30 000 in rent.”
This prompted Msomi to evict them. According to the recruits, The General had different “bases” around Pretoria, including in Onderstepoort and Amandasig.
The government, including Social Development, sprang into action on hearing of the stranded recruits. Officials went there with food and water when they heard they had gone hungry.
They said the man had effectively been involved in human trafficking. Military Police and the provincial government were investigating. “Allegations are that the man collected an undisclosed amount of money from unsuspecting parents in Kwa Zulu-Natal“ Social Development officials said. “The young people are reported to have been stranded next to the Wonderpark shopping complex since last week. Some are said to have left for unknown destinations.”
The department also dispatched a team of social workers to the area and to offer transport for the victims to return home.
The SANDF is attending to the matter through the Military Police.
The recruits have since been moved to the Tshwane Events Centre where they will be accommodated. The General was reportedly detained by police in Rosslyn, while charges were being formalised.