In exchange for bribes, lower-level officials allegedly warned traffickers of law enforcement operations and immigration officials allegedly facilitated undocumented entry for traffickers at land and air border points.
The Department of Social Development (DSD) is also alleged to have returned survivors to traffickers instead of referring them to care.
This is according to the Trafficking in Persons Report by the US Department of State which provides an overview of the state of human trafficking as well as covering government efforts from April 2022 to March 2023.
The report was compiled using sources including information from US embassies, government officials, non-governmental and international organisations, published reports, news articles, academic studies and consultations with authorities, among others.
“Observers and government officials continued to report widespread corruption particularly among Department of Home Affairs, the DSD, SAPS and Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI).
Observers reported high-level law enforcement officials obstructed trafficking investigations. Home Affairs arrested 22 immigration officials for corruption related to facilitating illegal entry, transportation, and harbouring of foreign nationals,” the report read.
Authorities had penalised victims of trafficking for offences committed as a direct result of being trafficked, including for immigration offences, the report found.
“As reported by multiple sources, trafficking victims were detained and deported after identification as trafficking victims and the government did not screen detained migrants for trafficking.
During the reporting period, the government deported more than 800 Basotho, which included some trafficking victims.
The government reportedly arrested and charged 52 undocumented migrants working in a single factory, including Malawians, Zimbabweans, and PRC nationals, including some potential trafficking victims, for immigration violations; allegedly, these potential victims were charged and faced deportation after declining to participate with investigations, despite expressing fears of retaliation.
The government arrested and charged 19 Bangladeshi potential trafficking victims with immigration violations after officials could not provide interpretation services and the potential victims declined to co-operate with investigations.”
According to the report, the government maintained mixed efforts to prevent trafficking.
“Most agencies, including SAPS, DSD, NPA, and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, used standard operating procedures (SOPs) adapted for each agency to identify and refer trafficking victims to care, developed in accordance with Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act and support from an international organisation; however, agencies and provinces implemented the SOPs inconsistently.”
The government reported providing trafficking victims with temporary emergency shelter, food assistance, interpreters, specialised medical care, psychosocial support and transport.
In response to the report, the DSD said that it had never received “a single report of bribery” from any of the observers, and it could not take action against any official on the basis of “rumours or hearsay”.
DSD spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said: “Integrated SOPs were developed jointly by law enforcement, social services and prosecution officials and these improved co-ordination in the management of cases of trafficking.
As long as trafficking is mentioned the provincial DSD ensures that proper arrangements are made for the person to be formally assessed.
Results of the assessment helps the accommodating shelter to provide appropriate care and support (psychosocial) services to the individual. As WC DSD, we do not deny services to victims.
“If we can’t place the victim in an accredited shelter, whatever the reason may be, we will place the victim in a GBV shelter.”
The Department of Justice said the country’s efforts to combat trafficking in people were comprehensive and covered all forms of trafficking.
“The TIP Act provides detailed legal provisions for arresting and prosecuting traffickers and a framework for supporting victims. The act defines trafficking broadly and sets out various offences related to trafficking, which carry harsh penalties. It also urges all government departments to take the necessary steps to prevent and combat trafficking.
“While challenges have been identified in the report, the government is working with relevant departments to improve interventions and responses,” department spokesperson Chrispin Phiri said.
“The government of South Africa provided a detailed report to the Department of State regarding TIP cases within the criminal justice system. However, the US Department of State made an error stating that South Africa had only eight TIP convictions. Our report indicated that there were 13 TIP convictions in relation to two body parts, eight instances of sex exploitation, one case of illegal adoption, one forced marriage, and one victim of trafficking subjected to slavery,” Phiri said.
He added that the Minister of Justice had approved the National Policy Framework (2023-26) in March 2019 and it was currently undergoing approval to Cabinet.
Home Affairs did not respond to requests for comment by deadline on Wednesday.