Picture: Zelda Venter/Pretoria News

Pretoria - In a first of its kind for the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, a judge on Thursday convicted two Nigerian nationals of human trafficking, after they exploited two vulnerable women to work for them as prostitutes.

Judge Ronel Tolmay, in well reasoned judgment which lasted nearly the entire day, said the actions of brothers Obioma Benjamin Abba, 32 and Chinedu
Justine Obasi, 38, exactly fitted in with the description of the offence as stated in the Human Trafficking Act.

The court earlier heard that it is difficult to obtain convictions of this nature, as the victims ( the prostitutes) often reverted back to their old lives and chose not to testify against their pimps.

This was especially so as nearly all of them were hooked on drugs, supplied by their pimps and they knew no other life.

But in this case the two now former prostitutes were adamant that they wanted a new life. 

They agreed to act as the prosecution’s star witnesses and in detail testified about their dark, drug induced lives on the streets of Arcadia in Pretoria.

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Both were from the start placed in the State’s witness protection plan and shielded from their former pimps. They also testified from a room adjacent from the courtroom so that they did not come face to face with their pimps.

The pair were elated on Thursday following the conviction of the brothers.

“We are going home now. We left the dark, lonely and often violent lives of being prostitutes behind,” one of them said. They may not be identified.

One of the victims, only identified as M, earlier testified how she once tried to run away from where she lived in Jaspit Court in Arcadia, with the brothers and other prostitutes.

Obasi, however, within minutes went to fetch her and brought her back to the flat. The result was that she and the other prostitutes were locked up in the flat during the day. 

They were only allowed out after six at night, when they had to walk the streets to recruit clients.

The now former prostitutes said they usually worked a 12 hours shift and they were constantly high on drugs to maintain the lifestyle. 

They also charged their clients according to their “menu” - which was R100 for a “full house” (any style of sex) and R80 for a single style. 

They often also had “smoking clients” which required them to sit with them while naked, while the clients used drugs.

Drugs are commonly used by pimps  to recruit new victims of prostitution and to retain them in a subjugated state, while optimising their exploitation, an  university lecturer Marcel van der Watt, who is an expert on the subject of human trafficking, told the court.

He was called to the witness box to assist the court in getting a better understanding of human trafficking and the dark world of prostitution.

He said control and power over victims of trafficking came in a variety of manifestations and was a key characteristic of human trafficking. It came at a great cost to the victims as they were harmed both psychologically and physically.

The administration of drugs by traffickers was commonly used to either create an addiction among the victims or to fuel existing dependencies. Traffickers also threaten to withhold drugs from victims in an effort to coerce them into prostitution.

Van der watt said a golden threaded theme that ran through the majority of human trafficking cases involving Nigerian  perpetrators is the tangled web in which prostitutes find themselves. 

He said a constant interplay  and chemistry of drugs, addiction, fear, manipulation and violence inflicted by pimps left the victims at the mercy of their “bosses.” 

Often bizarre love affairs  between the pimps and the prostitutes also came into play. 

Drug withdrawals by the prostitutes prompted them to keep their pimps pleased so that they could receive their “fix” in return.

Van der Watt explained that South Africa’s interwoven sex and drug trade was a viable option for many, with low risks and high earning potential. 

“This is often ring fenced by corrupt and compromised public officials in all sectors of government,”  he said.

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Pretoria News