One Indian man and five Ethiopian men (aged between 26 and 37 years) were arrested during the police sting operation and rescue mission of 47 Ethiopean would-be slaves. 060512 Picture: Handout/Supplied

A group of 47 Ethiopian men were rescued at the weekend from being sold into slavery by a human-trafficking syndicate in Limpopo.

They were apparently snatched for ransom or, for those whose families couldn’t pay, to be sold into slavery in SA. Their countrymen allegedly assisted in their being snatched.

Police spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said all 47 men were in good health and were being kept in a place of safety.

He said one Indian man and five Ethiopian men (aged between 26 and 37) were arrested during the police sting operation and rescue mission.

They had been destined to become slaves in different parts of the province,” said Mulaudzi.

An Ethiopian businessman in Joburg, who didn’t wish to be named for fear of repercussions, told The Star that such cases were not unusual. “This thing is common, especially close to the borders,” he said.

He described the problem as arising from would-be immigrants who agreed to pay networks to get them to SA, but then couldn’t pay, and said he had paid R5 000 for his own entry to SA.

“People abduct them and demand money from relatives. Generally it is because 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 must hold that person and contact his family.”

The businessman said it could take anything from two weeks to several years for an Ethiopian to get from East Africa to SA. “There is no fixed periods when you come to South Africa.”

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 South Africa has not been very kind to the foreign community… They come here for freedom. We should ensure people are not victimised,” he said.

“This is allowed to continue in an era when South Africa is a beacon of hope for many people.”

Mulaudzi said the Ethiopian group allegedly arrived at Musina, on the border with Zimbabwe, last week and were smuggled out of the refugee centre under mysterious circumstances and taken to safe houses in Makhado and Thohoyandou.

On Saturday, a relative of one of those abducted opened a kidnapping case.

“Police organised a sting operation after a kidnapping case was reported. The complainant told the police that 47 Ethiopians were being held against their will. He said five of his family members were there and that he had been ordered to pay R10 000 for their release,” Mulaudzi said.

The police had organised a sting operation through which 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 added.

He said the men were not armed and were known to the businessman.

After questioning by the police, the suspects directed them to four other syndicate members in Golgotha, Thohoyandou.

Mulaudzi said that when all six suspects had been arrested, they led the police to a house next to the University of Venda, where the other 42 victims were rescued.

“The six suspects are being investigated and we believe they may be linked to other activities of a similar nature in other countries,” said Mulaudzi. “They are ringleaders, but we believe there are more people involved.”

The six suspects were to appear on Monday at the Musina Magistrate’s Court on charges of kidnapping.

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The Star