By Mashudu Netsianda
More than 30 Zimbabwean women suspected to be victims of human trafficking were rescued by South African police from brothels in eMalahleni, formerly Witbank, in Mpumalanga province where their captors used them as sex slaves.
The Zimbabweans were part of a group of 50 victims among them males, from other countries which included the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria and locals.
South African provincial police spokesperson for Mpumalanga Brigadier Leonard Hlathi said the suspected victims of human trafficking were rescued in a pre-dawn raid on Friday targeting various houses in eMalahleni.
He said some of the women rescued were sex workers and others had been kept against their will.
“As police, we acted on a tip-off and raided houses which were used as brothels in eMalahleni to rid the area of drugs and prostitution and rescued 50 foreign nationals.
“They were all undocumented, a majority of which were from Zimbabwe. We also arrested more than 60 people for various offences, including prostitution, possession of drugs and human trafficking,” said Brig Hlathi.
He said that the area targeted was believed to be harbouring prostitutes, drug dealers and illegal foreign nationals.
“We raided that place informed by an incident that happened during the week in which a 39-year-old woman reported to the taxi people that she was subjected to severe rape and fed with drugs in a particular house in Witbank. The taxi rank people then went to torch three houses as well as a business believed to belong to foreign nationals,” he said.
During the operation, police barricaded the streets and raided the houses.
“The women that we rescued said they had been kept against their will and forced to do sex work after having been forced to take drugs,” said Brig Hlathi.
He said on Wednesday, seven women were also rescued from the clutches of pimps in the area.
“We cannot allow this situation to continue and, in the process, we also found that some of these women were here in the country illegally because they don’t have proper documentation. The locals are from other provinces in the country,” he said.
Brig Hlathi said similar operations would be conducted in other towns in the province.
“We want sanity to prevail and we will soon roll out similar operations in other parts of Mpumalanga as we intensify our fight against drug abuse, human trafficking and sex slave,” said the police spokesperson.
He said the undocumented foreign nationals have since been handed over to the Department of Home Affairs awaiting deportation.
Recently, South African police rescued 37 undocumented Zimbabweans from a human trafficking syndicate and arrested two taxi drivers who were transporting them.
The illegal immigrants — 21 men, 11 women and five children — were intercepted in Polokwane while on their way to Pretoria.
According to the Department of Immigration, an average of 100 illegal migrants are intercepted daily at Beitbridge Border Post as they try to enter South Africa.
Zimbabwean border jumpers wishing to cross into South Africa are helped by commuter omnibus drivers commonly known as omalayitsha who are well connected to officials on both sides of the border.
Despite stiff fines imposed by the South African Home Affairs on omalayitsha caught smuggling undocumented travellers or those with expired passports or no valid visas, into that country, cases of smuggling of such persons continue to rise.
Those caught smuggling undocumented persons are required to pay a fine of R15 000 per person.
Authorities from Zimbabwe and South Africa have on many occasions raised the red flag against the rampant smuggling of undocumented travellers, especially minors into the neighbouring country. The Chronicle