It has been a fortnight of hell for Mpoetsi Phutheho, 36, after the promise of a job turned into a nightmare when she came face to face with the prospect of forced prostitution.
Phutheho of QwaQwa, in the Free State, had been promised a waitress job by family friend Betty Buthelezi in Joburg, early in the month.
But when she and three other women from the Free State arrived in the City of Gold it turned out that they were not going to be waitresses at all, but prostitutes.
“We came to Joburg in high spirits after we were told by Betty that she had found work for us as waitresses at a restaurant,” Phutheho said.
However, when they arrived they were forced to watch pornography and told that that was what they would be expected to do in their new jobs.
She said: “The videos were disgusting, one video had women eating excrement. The conditions were terrible. We all shared one bed,” she said.
When the women refused to prostitute themselves, Phutheho said her male captors became hostile and locked them in a room.
They were not given food as punishment and when they asked for water to bath, they were refused.
The fear and anxiety in the room they were locked in was palpable.
“We just sat there crying and wondering what was to come next. I had no hope,” said Phutheho, who eventually managed to escape.
Speaking from a safe house, a crying Phutheho recalled her experience: “On Monday morning I asked to empty a refuse bag that was in the room.
One of my captors accompanied me. He got distracted and I ran for my life, I was almost hit by a taxi.”
But Phutheho fears for the safety of her companions, who are still missing.
”I have hardly slept this past fortnight, I cry when I think of the fate of my cousin and the other two women.”
People Search and Rescue Unit Investigator Wynand Pretorius says human trafficking and commercial sex exploitation is widespread.
“South African girls and women are trafficked in their own country for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude,” said Pretorius.
He noted that the human and social consequences for the victims of human trafficking were compelling; this included shock, denial and addiction to drugs.
The Gauteng Department of Social Development's director for Social Crime Prevention, Tebello Mkhonto, says 92 cases of human trafficking were recorded in the province in the past two years.
She said victims range from 14 to 35 with unemployment identified as a mayor contributing factor in trafficking cases.
“Unemployment is the leading factor in human trafficking, with the victims susceptible because of poverty,” said Mkhonto.
Gauteng has a rapid response task team comprising the police, Hawks, Department of Health, Department of Justice, Home Affairs, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Airport and Border Control Agency to tackle human trafficking, she said.
Gauteng police spokesman Captain Tsekiso Mofokeng said a case of kidnapping was being investigated.
“We are struggling to find the other women as the escaped victim is not familiar with Joburg and can't point police to where they were held.
He appealed to the public and the taxi driver who helped Phutheho escape to assist the police with their investigation.