People protest against the high level of vulnerability to modern slavery in South Africa. Picture: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town - More than 155 000 people, mostly foreign nationals, live in modern slavery in South Africa, according to a report. 
Former deputy minister of defence Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who is now an activist against human trafficking, said human trafficking was largely happening underground. 

A a researcher said it is very easy for human trafficking syndicates to move women trafficked from foreign countries to Cape Town via Joburg.

She cited the recently released Country Data Global Slavery Index report.

The report explores “prevalence, vulnerability (of victims), and government response”.

The report estimated the proportion of population living in modern slavery to be at 2.80/1000.

The UN marks next Monday as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.

Madlala-Routledge, executive director of the Embrace Dignity NGO, described South African borders as “porous”, which made it easy for human traffickers.

She said the contents of this report corresponded with information contained in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report, released in late June, and which ranked SA on the “Tier ll watch list”.

Madlala-Routledge said the ranking meant that although the country had made progress, “there were minimum standards that we’re not meeting, (standards) of eliminating human trafficking and in terms of our law”.

“The Global Slavery Index figures are very useful because it tells you about the vulnerability of the women. For them to be able to traffic the women, the women have to be vulnerable,” she said.

According to the report there is a high level of vulnerability to modern slavery in South Africa, with an estimate of 53.76 out of 100 people considered vulnerable to modern slavery.

“Human trafficking syndicates target women and children,” Madlala-Routledge said.

She received information from the UN last year that boys were being specifically trafficked from Lesotho to Cape Town.

She said there were suspicions of government officials being bought off.

“We’re just touching the tip of the iceberg. Human trafficking involves a lot of underground activity. Government needs to be co-ordinated,” Madlala-Routledge said.

Promising desperate women jobs, human traffickers lure females, some coming from China via Joburg, where their passports are confiscated, to Cape Town, according to Marcel van der Watt, researcher at the Unisa police practice department.

Van der Watt said, “most trafficking happens within the borders of this country”.

“South Africa is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. This is the case for both South African and foreign victims.”

“Forced labour is reportedly used in fruit and vegetable farms across South Africa and vineyards in the Western Cape.

“Foreign male forced labour victims have been identified aboard fishing vessels in South Africa’s territorial waters.”

His first encounter with trafficking in Cape Town was in 2008 while investigating a case of a missing minor.

Since then, he has dealt with numerous reports.

“A recent experience of highly questionable labour practices was in March this year, during a visit to an upmarket brothel in the Cape Town CBD, where support staff, including cleaners and waitresses, complained of being fined extortionate amounts of money for being late, answering cellphones, complaints by customers and customers not paying for food or beverages.”

He said two of the support staff said they were paid R2700 and R3300 per month respectively, and worked long hours, received no pay slips and both fined in excess of R17000 that they had to pay off.

“When reasonably assessed, the debt incurred as a result of the fines is manifestly excessive.

“Both women came from vulnerable communities in Cape Town and argued that it would take some years to pay off the debt, considering both were single moms and had others who relied on them.”

Nicole Bartels, national operations manager at Stop Trafficking of People, said numerous reports made estimations that ranged from 27million to 45million trafficked people.

“So much of human trafficking is hidden; it’s a hidden crime.

“It’s hidden in plain sight.”

Bartels warned that it was difficult to come up with accurate statistics on human trafficking.

She said she heard quite a few stories of boys from Lesotho being trafficked to Cape Town under the ruse that they would receive sporting or bursary opportunities, when in fact they’d be used for work or for sexual exploitation.

Bartels added that because the country’s entry points were easy to enter illegally, cross-border trafficking was prevalent.

She said syndicates also used South Africa as a transit point.

She echoed Madlala-Routledge’s comments on corruption by officials, adding that it was rampant at the country’s ports of entry.

Weekend Argus