Widespread corruption in the form of complicity by officials has been identified as a key challenge in addressing all transnational crime, including human trafficking.
At least two NPA prosecutors, police officers and an acting judge have been implicated in related crimes.
This is according to this year’s Trafficking in Persons Report by the US Department of State, which provides a comprehensive overview of the state of human trafficking around the world and the tools being used to stop it.
The department prepared the report using information from US embassies, government officials, non-governmental and international organisations, published reports, news articles, academic studies, consultations with authorities and organisations in every region of the world, along with information submitted to [email protected].
The report found that traffickers recruit victims from neighbouring countries and rural areas within South Africa, particularly Gauteng, and exploit them in sex trafficking locally and in urban centres, such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Bloemfontein.
Traffickers force both adults and children, particularly those from socio-economically disadvantaged communities and rural areas, as well as migrants, into labour in domestic service, mining, food services, construction, criminal activities, agriculture, and the fishing sector.
“Traffickers recruit both foreign and South African victims through fake job advertisements on social media and classified advertisement forums, including advertisements for webcam modelling, hospitality, mining, and domestic work,” the report stated.
According to the report, the South African government recognised official complicity as a key challenge in addressing all transnational crime, including human trafficking, and investigated and prosecuted government officials.
Incidents detailed include the prosecution of the co-defendant of an acting judge, who was deceased before criminal proceedings began, for multiple trafficking-related crimes.
“The government charged three SAPS officers for extorting potential trafficking victims in a case reported in 2021; the case remained ongoing.
“Two NPA prosecutors were implicated in a potential corruption scheme for obstructing efforts to hold a high-profile, public figure accountable for alleged child sex trafficking over several years; the government did not report any actions taken against the prosecutors.”
The report, which covers government efforts between April 2022 and March 2023, further stated that the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI/Hawks) initiated 29 trafficking case investigations – 19 for sex trafficking, eight for labour trafficking, and two for unspecified forms of trafficking – and continued 35 investigations from previous reporting periods.
The NPA initiated 15 prosecutions of 30 suspects and continued 28 prosecutions of 74 suspects from prior reporting periods.
The courts convicted 14 traffickers in eight cases, including two forced labour cases, compared with convicting 11 traffickers in the previous reporting period. Sentences for traffickers ranged from 15 years to life imprisonment.
“The government initiated prosecutions of two South African traffickers for forced labour in agriculture; their associates, two Mozambican recruiters, fraudulently recruited and transported 39 victims, including children, from Mozambique and were convicted for illegal entry, which included a sentence of three months’ imprisonment and a fine. The case remained ongoing.”
Observers reported some SAPS officers were unwilling to investigate cases, particularly of children forced to engage in street vending or begging, and relied on NGOs to obtain victims’ statements and build cases.
“Observers reported cases of sex trafficking of Basotho women from Lesotho in South African brothels; however, due to alleged official complicity of both Basotho and South African officials linked to the brothels, they continued to operate with impunity.
Given mistrust in law enforcement, civil society reported the need for a trusted, high-level government contact to receive reports of officials complicit in human trafficking crimes, to facilitate investigations and to avoid retribution.”
The NGO-operated National Human Trafficking Hotline received 3 374 calls pertaining to human trafficking in 2022, identified 391 potential victims, and successfully assisted with the removal of 50 trafficking victims from exploitation.
Recommendations included increased efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict officials complicit in trafficking crimes and traffickers within organised crime syndicates, including cases of online exploitation, and ensuring victims are not inappropriately penalised solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
Hawks national spokesperson, Brigadier Thandi Mbombo, confirmed that officials from various departments have been arrested for their participation in facilitating these crimes.
“The DPCI has a national structure of co-ordinators and investigators that provides operational support to provinces. Workshops and training are provided by human resource development of the SAPS and in collaboration with the US.”
Mbombo said civil organisations have been requested to inform the SAPS/DPCI about instances where potential victims of trafficking in persons were left at stations overnight, and of poor service, corruption and obstruction.
“The observer statement reflected in the US report has not been received as an official complaint. Contact details of SAPS Complaints nodal point, MySAPS App and Crime Stop have been provided as instruments at the disposal of the community.
“The SAPS/DPCI will always encourage community members and civil society organisations to report poor service delivery in order for corrective measures to be taken.”
The NPA and police did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.