Durban - Police twice arrested an underage schoolgirl, who prostituted herself for R50, but released her after her alleged pimp paid off the arresting officers.

The girl, who cannot be named, said that she was picked up once for prostitution and once for smoking crack cocaine.

Both times her alleged pimp, Sandile Patrick Zweni, spoke to the arresting officers who then released her and the other girls with whom she was working or smoking.

She told the court that on both occasions he then paid the officers.

The girl was giving evidence in the trial of Dr Genchen Rugnath, his wife Ravina, Zweni, Nonduzo Dlamini, and Bhabha Dubazini.

They have all pleaded not guilty to 156 charges, including assault, rape, sexual exploitation of a child, and racketeering.

Girls as young as 12 were alleged to have worked at a Durban hotel.

The girl told the court on Monday she had started prostituting herself for drugs when she was 13 years old.

She said on Tuesday the first time she was arrested she and two other girls were plying their trade outside Rugnath's Inn Town Lodge.

“The police chased us, caught us, put our hands behind our backs and took us into the van.”

She said they were not taken to a police station and charged, but were kept in the back of the police van for about 20 minutes before being let out.

“Sandile then gave them money. They left and then we went inside,” she said.

On the second occasion she said the girls were arrested for smoking “rock” - crack cocaine - inside their room at Inn Town Lodge.

“They took us from the inside, (to the) outside, to the van. We started to get inside the van and Sandile came and spoke to them. We sat in the van for a short time and were released.”

She said while in the van, she heard Zweni telling the arresting officers that the three girls were “my children” and that they would not “do what they have been doing again”.

“I saw Sandile give money to the police,” she said.

The code to warn girls of a police raid was: “Benni Benni, the children are crying.”

On Monday, the girl told the court she charged her clients R50 for sex after being given drugs.

She would charge R50 for sexual intercourse and R100 for both sexual intercourse and oral sex.

The girl, who is now 19 years old, told the court she was invited to stay at the Victoria Lodge hotel while she was waiting outside a Durban library when she was 13 years old.

The next year, she stayed at the Victoria Lodge and another place called the Cotton Lodge, where she sold sex to pay for a drug that she called “wake-up”.

After staying at Victoria Lodge and the Cotton Lodge, she said she then stayed at Inn Town Lodge, the hotel owned by Rugnath.

Rugnath's manageress, Veena Budhram, was also initially charged but has since turned State witness.

Rugnath claims he knew nothing about prostitution taking place at the hotel, located in Durban's Point Road area - known for its red-light activities - and left the running of his hotel to Budhram.

Zweni is alleged to have operated the prostitution ring from the hotel.

The trial continues. - Sapa