Economy, porous border make SA a hub for human trafficking – new study reports

A man jumps the border close to Beitbridge. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

A man jumps the border close to Beitbridge. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 3, 2023


Cape Town - South Africa’s economic dominance in the region, its long, porous border – including a 3 000km-long shoreline, fronting both the south Atlantic and south Indian oceans – are some of the main reasons the country has over the years become a “paradise for traffickers”.

This is one of the conclusions reached by researcher Prof Philip Frankel, the author of a new study on human trafficking in South Africa titled Human Trafficking in South Africa.

The new book, Prof Frankel’s second on the topic since 2017 when he wrote, Long Walk to Nowhere: Human Trafficking in Post-Mandela South Africa, is now available nationwide courtesy of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

The new book explores the various forms of trafficking and has chapters on sex, labour and child trafficking which are supplemented by material on child organ trafficking for muti murder, illegal adoption and “baby farming” of children for exploitation by foster parents.

In an interview with the Cape Argus, Professor Frankel said one of the main attractions for traffickers was South Africa’s very long and easily penetrable borders, which were not well guarded.

“We’re beginning to see people arriving in boats, not to the extent of the situation on the Mediterranean to Europe, but people are coming in by boats along the south coast.”

He said because South Africa was a hub of economic activity in the region, there was a constant circulation of undocumented migrants coming in and out of the country, such as those going from Lesotho to Botswana etc.

“Finally, we’ve got a very sophisticated banking system, which is important for laundering funds which the traffickers accumulate.

“We don’t know the exact figure, but if you look at it worldwide, human trafficking is the most lucrative crime. We suspect it turns over $70 billion a year. So we are looking at very big amounts of money.”

Professor Philip Frankel. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi

Asked if he was saying that having a sophisticated banking system actually works in favour of the traffickers, Frankel said it had done so until very recently.

“What’s happened in the course of the last year to 18 months is that organisations like the Financial Intelligence Centre and business groups, particularly banks, have now got together more than ever before and are trying to track money laundering.”

As for the perpetrators, Frankel said: “It’s actually all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds.

“Some of the big syndicates are obviously based outside South Africa and there’s a kind of pyramidal structure with the small players, little guys in Boksburg or in Cape Town.”

In March a research report compiled by the South African Anti-Money Laundering Integrated Task Force (Samlit), on modern slavery and human trafficking titled “Follow the Money”, showed the Western Cape reported the highest number of cases of modern slavery and human trafficking.

The report noted: “It is indicative that tourist destinations are the biggest hot spots for human trafficking, especially that related to sexual exploitation.”

During a meeting of the Pan-African Parliament in February, ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina said women and children were left worst off in the process of undocumented migration as they get “shafted around in human trafficking”.

Pemmy Majodina.

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