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A GROUP of 47 Ethiopian men has been rescued from being sold into slavery by a human trafficking syndicate in Limpopo.
The men were apparently snatched for ransom or, for those whose families couldn’t pay, to be sold into slavery in SA.
It is alleged that fellow Ethiopians helped in the snatch.
Police spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the 47 men were in good health and being kept in a place of safety.
An Indian man and five Ethiopian men, ranging in age from 26 to 37 years, were arrested during the police sting and rescue mission at the weekend, Mulaudzi said.
“They were destined to allegedly (end up as slaves) in different parts of the province.”
An Ethiopian businessman in Joburg, who for fear of repercussions declined to be named, said such cases were not unusual.
“This thing is common, especially close to the borders,” he said.
The problem arose when would-be immigrants agreed to pay networks to get them to SA, but then couldn’t pay, he said. He had paid R5 000 for his own access to SA.
“People kidnap them and demand money from relatives. When they are being smuggled to SA, they promise to pay some of the money. Sometimes they reach here and are unwilling to pay, so for a smuggler to get his money they hold that person and contact his family.”
The businessman said it could take anything from two weeks to years for a Ethiopian to get from East Africa to SA.
Legal Resources Centre activist Desmond D’Sa said modern slavery in SA was common.
“We are seeing more and more people being brought in through human trafficking and sold. Their families are often back home under threat, so they work and work and don’t get paid.”
D’Sa said there were a lot of cases from Pakistan.
“For too long SA has not been very kind to the foreign community. We are seen as a country that stands up for people and has a high level of tolerance. They come here for freedom. We should ensure people are not victimised. This is allowed to continue in an era when SA is a beacon of hope for many people.”
Mulaudzi said the Ethiopian group apparently arrived some time last week at Musina, on the border with Zimbabwe, and were allegedly smuggled out of the refugee centre under circumstances that have not yet been established. They were taken to “safe houses” in Makhado and Thohoyandou.
On Saturday, a relative of one of the men filed a kidnapping complaint with police. The complainant told police that 47 Ethiopians were being held against their will. He said five of his relatives were among them and he had been ordered to pay R10 000 for their release.
Mulaudzi said the police organised a sting.
The complainant met two of the suspects at a car dealership in Makhado.
“The complainant was in possession of the R10 000, which led to the arrest of two of the suspects and the rescue of the five victims,” Mulaudzi said.
The men were not armed and were known to be businessman.
After being questioned by the police, the suspects directed them to four other syndicate members who were in Golgotha, Thohoyandou.
Mulaudzi said when all six suspects had been arrested, they led the police to a house next to the University of Venda, where the other 42 men were rescued.
“We believe the six suspects may be linked to other activities of a similar nature in other countries,” said Mulaudzi.
“They are ring leaders, but we believe there are more people involved.”
Mulaudzi said that with the influx of Ethiopians, Somalians and Bangladeshis into the country, police cells were “full of illegal (migrants) instead of criminals”.
Mulaudzi said he was shocked at the case. “We arrested Ethiopians (who were) demanding (a) ransom from their own people.”
The six are to appear in the Musina Magistrate’s Court today on charges of kidnapping.
Limpopo Police Commissioner Lieutenant General Simon Mpembe said the organisers of such ventures took advantage of vulnerable people and put their lives at risk.
“We will not turn a blind eye to the exploitation of innocent people in our own backyard.
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. The law must show no mercy.”