The Travesty of Human Trafficking in South Africa

Renowned South African human rights lawyer George Bizos was moved to tears by the abuses highlighted in an exhibition on human trafficking in South Africa, launched at Constitutional Hill, writes Jackie Bischof for
Looking at the photographs,  Bizos said he “wondered what happened to sections of the Constitution in relation to the girls [in the images].”  Bizos said he was shocked to see how the photographs displayed “practically every one of the sub-sections in Section 28 [being] evidently disregarded.” Section 28 in the South African Bill of Rights deals the protection of children.Bizos said he was confounded that human trafficking was still an issue in South Africa when other regions, such as parts of Europe, had virtually eradicated the  problem within ten years of tackling it. “We don’t have to shout from the rooftops [about trafficking],” said Bizos. “We have [the media] and other ways in which our voices can be heard. But let’s not be silent.” He added that the first step that needs to be taken is urgently pushing through human trafficking legislation currently before Parliament.

The exhibition will run through mid-December and is part of Media Monitoring Africa’s interrogation of the media’s coverage of human trafficking in the country before, during and after the 2010 World Cup.Situated in the old Women’s Gaol at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg, which housed several female activists during the apartheid era, the exhibition features the photographs of Melanie Hamman, who has been visually documenting incidences of human trafficking around the world since 2007. The exhibition of her work in South Africa features pictures of three victims who had been lured away from their home with empty promises of work and financial gain and were struggling to escape their situation.

Human trafficking is something that the ordinary South African is totally oblivious to, says Hamman, and the incredible wealth in the country makes it even harder to understand how the trafficking of young children can be so rife.“SA is a wonderfully prosperous country, and there’s so much hope and so much has been achieved in the last ten years,” said Hamman. “But I see the wealth and the prosperity and I’ve stepped into the darkest, most impoverished parts of this nation as well. And something about that is just not right. How can a nation care? And why doesn’t a nation care?” asked Hamman. Pursuing a life that is even “basically happy” is an impossible obstacle for some of the children who are trafficked.With

Hamman’s photos flanking one wall, the other side of the room featured images chosen by MMA’s Child Media Monitors. Some of the images had been taken by Hamman while others were captured by amateur photographers from the Umuzi Photo Club in Soweto. Over a period of four months, MMA ran media workshops with around 60 ‘Child Media Monitors’ aged 9 to 13, looking at whether South African media coverage of children was fair and balanced. A portion of the children focussed on the issue of child trafficking. Photographs chosen by the children and their responses to the pictures appeared in the exhibition.The children’s participation in the exhibition allowed them to “communicate their pressing concerns relating to children’s rights; how these rights are upheld or denied in their own communities and the potential impact this may have,” said the MMA’s William Bird.Prior to the exhibition, Hamman and the children also discussed media coverage of child trafficking rumours over the World Cup period and debated whether sensational reporting such as figures of 100 000 girls being trafficked in for the World Cup, or children being kidnapped and sold for tens of thousands of rands helped the issue or contributed to media fatigue.Some of the rumours were way off the mark. “South African children aren’t that valuable,” said Hamman. “It can cost you R100 for a pimp to buy a South African child. The media is not really telling the right story.”The exhibition will run until the middle of December at the Women’s Gaol at Constitution Hill on Kotze Street, Johannesburg. For more information on the MMA, visit


SAAHTT Newsletter 2nd Edition goes live tomorrow. Here is a teaser!!

We launched our email newsletter two months back. The second edition will be posted tomorrow. Here is a teaser

SAAHTT Newsletter Edition 2 Teaser!

We hope you will enjoy reading this tomorrow. If you would like to receive our newsletter straight to your inbox, please subscribe on this blog. Your email will only be used for the purposes of receiving this email newsletter. If at any time you feel you you do not want to receive any more news, updates or newsletters from us you can immediately unsubscribe.

Gilbert Makore

SAAHTT Blog Turns 1 !

The Southern African Anti Human Trafficking Trust (SAAHTT) blog is now a year old and we are pretty excited by achievements and results we have been able to attain as an organisation, in no small part, due to the blog. It all started on 22 October 2009 with this post and 12 months later we have managed to post a total of 60 posts on the blog ranging from videos, presentations, articles, news-clips and wide ranging analyses. That represents 5 blog posts per month or a post every week. Over 90% of those 60 posts is original content that we have created on human trafficking, thereby creating an important information repository on human trafficking with a focus on southern Africa. What is more exciting more than any other statistic is the fact that the blog has drawn over 5000 views since we started and the Facebook page has now grown to over 1100 active modern day abolitionists who believe in combatting human trafficking. We are confident that the blog has not just been an end itself. But has allowed SAAHTT to educate and empower. Indeed we have received hundreds of comments and incoming links on the blog articles on facebook, twitter and the blog itself.

The post that began it all

The post that began it all

We realise though that this is not the end of the journey but represents the start of much more work to come. We are pretty excited as we go into the second year and promise to make this blog more relevant and better informing. We hope it will continue to inspire people to take action and take a stand against human trafficking. So, here’s to another exciting 12 months!!! Stay engaged.

Gilbert Makore


Reflections on our application to the Echoing Green Fellowhsip

Late last year, we (SAAHTT) applied to the Echoing Green Fellowship. This is one of the best international fellowship programmes for social entrepreneurs. The program is for non profit and for profit interventions that are aimed at addressing the world’s social needs. It is a fellowship for ‘world changers’. It is also one of the most competitive fellowship programmes around. We applied to be part of the Echoing Green fellowship last year (2009). We were motivated by the opportunity because it would present us with relationships, mentorship and equally important seed capital. The money would have been a welcome boost for the organisation as it would have meant that we would be able to initiate and upscale projects to combat modern day slavery.

echoing green website

echoing green website

While the fellowship is open to both non profit and for-profit ventures it is often regarded as a purely social entrepreneurship programme. We still applied to the programme with full knowledge to this because while we are a non profit project, we believe in the ethos of social entrepreneurship and sustainability. We believe that every dollar SAAHTT gets should be optimally used to counter human trafficking in Southern Africa. We believe in efficiency and in being excellent in every activity we undertake. We believe in communicating well with all our stakeholders and we hate window dressing. These are things that are missing in non profits globally. We hope to buck the trend in our own little way. But that is just an aside.

The real story is we went on to put our all behind the application. The application is so taxing because it demands you to think through your project idea. Echoing Green fellows are people with projects still in the start up phase and often this means people who are still pivoting and developing their ideas. In addition, the application requires a certain level of brevity that is so demanding. Explaining everything in 500-1000 word limits is difficult. Want to know how that can be-imagine having to explain everything about your project in Twitter characters (140 characters). But we managed to go through the first round. We were one of only 350 projects that went through to the second phase, out of the initial 1100 that had applied. The invitation to complete the second phase application was a congratulatory email notifying SAAHTT that we constituted 30% of organisations that had passed the first phase. We were really overjoyed at the SAAHTT offices. This was validation of our project idea. It meant so much to us as the SAAHTT project idea implementation was only 2-3 months old.

We, however, remained tempered by the fact that the process was not complete and was even more difficult through the second phase. We managed to get through the second phase application and submitted. Then we……waited…….and……waited…….and ……..waited. The process itself was not as long as the last sentence seems to portray. It was just two months of waiting. But still, it was such a nail biting wait and a tad bit stressful. And then the dreaded results came in. The regret email was so crushing. Here at SAAHTT we do not take disappointment as easily as we would like. We were so disappointed and pretty much preferred not to talk about it. And then another e-mail came. It was the feedback to our application.

Now this e-mail is not to detail how disappointed we were by failing to get the fellowship. This post is instead an unashamed thumbs up to the Echoing Green programme and more importantly in our personal experience, the application process. The application process allowed us to introspect. To think about what exactly it is SAAHTT intends to do and why it is going about it in one way and not the other. It allowed us to think ahead and really envision the project. It allowed us to discover new insight into the problem of human trafficking in southern Africa. And to boot, we got an outsider’s view of SAAHTT. A professional evaluation of our ideas and strategies. You just do not get that kind of feedback from other programmes. Granted, fundraising is brutal. But we sure did enjoy the process of applying for the Echoing Green Fellowship despite the rollercoaster of emotions  🙂 So what happened since then. Well, we regrouped, doubled up and hunkered down. We continue to incrementally address no less one of the biggest and daunting challenges of our time-human trafficking/modern day slavery.

Most of all, congratulations to the folks who got in. We need you to change the world. Nothing less:)

Human Trafficking Research Gone Wrong?: The Case of South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) won a tender by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to conduct research on human trafficking occurrence in South Africa. The research titled ‘Tsireledzani: understanding the dimensions of human trafficking in southern Africa’, came out some time back in March and I had the opportunity to read through it. However, this report, despite being a laudable attempt to investigate human trafficking, faced a lot of criticism from independent scholars who felt it fell short of the research rigour expected from an eminent research institution such as the HSRC. I quickly and quietly rubbished the criticism as an attempt to belittle the challenge of human trafficking in southern Africa and particularly South Africa.

Tsireledzani Report

Tsireledzani Report

That being said, on Wednesday, I stumbled upon a more concise rebuttal published by (not really sure, although one of the authors is employed by ISS) the Institute of Security Studies (ISS). The paper, titled ‘Of Nigerians, Albinos, Satanists and Anecdotes: A critical review of the HSRC report on human trafficking’ is a more robust critique of the HSRC report. It argues that the HSRC report did not address and or query the research terms of reference. It goes on to state that the report is weak as it fails to give new insight into the problem of human trafficking and reads just like previous research by other organisations such as IOM and Molo Songololo which are not backed by evidence and are therefore heavily anectodal. The report is argued as being sensationalistic and even alarmist having come to the conclusion that human trafficking is rife in South Africa and therefore needing to be addressed on all fronts yet failing to give research to back this claim. This, the ISS paper claims may lead to the use of state resources to address a problem whose full extent is not known, potentially diverting scarce but much needed resources from more pressing and proven social ills.

ISS paper

ISS paper

I read the Tsireledzani research report and I somewhat regrettably have to concur with the ISS paper as the HSRC report reads just like the other human trafficking reports before it and offers no new insight into the problem. It sights the exact same limitations to conducting human trafficking research but does not seem to have countered or gone around these limitations to give fresh impetus and insight into the challenge of modern day slavery. Frankly, the research does seem to fall short.

The dangers of half-baked human trafficking research reports are clearly apparent in this scenario. The main problem is that it leads not just to the refutation of the human trafficking research reports but indeed the objection or at least the insinuation of an objection of the occurrence of human trafficking. Poor research that sounds alarmist and sensationalistic just seems to bring out the human trafficking denial proponents thus presenting a great stumbling block to anti human trafficking work. Thus while the ISS paper does not state that there is no human trafficking in South Africa it does refute a report that states that there is human trafficking in South Africa and by extension the very occurrence of human trafficking in South Africa, until….. until proven otherwise by more credible and evidence based or backed research. The ISS paper’s authors have urged or rather demanded that the HSRC withdraw its human trafficking research report. What is perhaps also commedable about the ISS paper is the fact that it recommends or gives insight into how the research should have been done, for example, the need for strong caveats acknowledging time and methodological limitations in the research, use of the IOM database of 300 or so trafficking victims, contesting the terms of reference etc etc.

Now is this a case of human trafficking research gone bad? Or a case of those in denial coming out with their swords? The jury is clearly still out. Personally, this presents a challenge to all modern day abolitions to do more, to conduct more robust research, to go beyond scratching the surface of the problem. Because, believe you me, the problem is there-whether or not we appreciate its full extent is debatable.

Gilbert Makore

N.B: the views expressed in this blog are of the author in his own individual capacity and in no way reflect the views of SAAHTT

We have been busy…and…the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report is Out!

We have been a bit quiet over the last few weeks. The reason is that we have been so busy building SAAHTT into a thriving organisation that is able to confront the ills of modern day slavery in southern Africa. In the next coming months we hop we will have some big news to announce and you will see some major changes to the blog etc etc…

2010 TIP report

2010 TIP report

In the meanwhile, the 2010 Trafficking in Persons report that is produced by the U. S State Department is out. One major change this year is the fact that the United States puts itself to the test with regards to anti trafficking efforts. Previously, the report looked at trafficking and trafficking efforts by all the governments in the world except itself (U.S government). We have not yet gone through the report but we suspect the jury will remain out with regards to the veracity of the U.S section of the report as the country is essentially evaluating itself thereby bringing forth questions of objectivity and bias. But that is just an aside and should in no way cloud the fact that the TIP report has also been an important tool to establish the overall extent of trafficking and attendant governments’ efforts to fight it.

Indeed, it is the TIP report of 2009 that added to our conviction as SAAHTT founders that there is need for an organisation to fight all forms of human trafficking in Southern Africa. The 2009 report cleared any doubt we had in our minds as to the need for some action, any action. You can go read the report here. And there is also the important remarks by Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Luis CdeBaca . However, we will pore over the report and provide information from the report in a format that you can consume much more easily as the report is too voluminous in its current form. So we will break down the TIP 2010 Report in a couple of posts to follow.

Go on. Tell someone about trafficking!

Raped by ‘omaguma-guma’

By Phyllis Kachere in MUSINA

IT took Ms Sukoluhle Ncube (not her real name) four months to prepare for her journey to South Africa. She sold the only cow her late husband Mgcini had bequeathed to her and their five children on his death.

For her, the journey to South Africa symbolised all she had dreamt of; a better lifestyle for herself and the children.
But the journey ended tragically last week for the Lupane widow after she was raped by the men, known as omaguma-guma, who had promised to assist her cross illegally into South Africa.
“We were only two women out of the nine people in our group who were trying to cross into South Africa through the Tuli illegal crossing point.
“Before I left home in Lupane, I had paid three goats and R600 to an illegal transport operator we call umalayitsha who promised to facilitate my travel to South Africa.
“He is the one who linked me with these men who later raped me soon after we crossed the Limpopo at Tuli.”
Ms Ncube said soon after the five omaguma-guma had assisted them cross the Limpopo River into South Africa, a group of about 10 men emerged from the bush and started demanding cellphones and cash.
“They teamed up with our five guides and started physically searching us for valuables,” she said.
“I did not have a cellphone. After the body searches they called the other woman and myself aside, and they immediately began raping us.”
Ms Ncube said she was not sure how many men raped her, but believes that all the 15 men did.
The sexual assault resulted in her getting genital lacerations for which she was receiving treatment from doctors at the Medecins sans Frontieres clinic, a short distance from her shelter.
Ms Ncube says she has not reported the matter to the police on either side of the border because she believes the culprits may never be apprehended.
“Besides, I do not want my children and relatives to know this happened to me,” she said.
“It is a shameful thing and I don’t want anyone to know about this. If I report to the police, it also means I will be arrested for illegally crossing into South Africa without travel documents and then be deported.
“I don’t want to go back now. I have to bring food and clothing for my children. I can’t go back before I have even arrived at my destination.”
Ms Ncube said she hoped to proceed to either Johannesburg or Cape Town, depending on how much she will be able to raise in the next two months as she did odd jobs in Musina.
Her story is almost similar to the sad tales of the other 35 women sheltered at the Old Catholic Building.
The women said they had crossed illegally into South Africa because they did not have valid travel documents, but at the same time wished to job-hunt in South Africa.
“I have my two children to feed plus another child from my late brother to feed and educate,” said another woman who said she was lucky to escape the rape but not the robbery.
“I am unemployed and I think if I go to South Africa, I can change my circumstances and be able to provide for my three dependants. I can’t afford the high passport fees.”
Matron at the Old Catholic Building Mrs Dorah Ncube said because of a lack of funding, they allow sexually abused women to stay at the centre for only three days.
“We don’t have enough funding, so we allow the Zimbabwean women to stay for only three days during which time they receive free meals and a roof over their heads,” she said.
“They also use this time to seek medical treatment.
“Most women who drop in report having been sexually abused by the hordes of omaguma-guma roaming the porous border between Zimbabwe and South Africa with the intention of robbing and raping border jumpers.
“Some of the women are treated for sexually transmitted infections by doctors at the Medecins san Frontieres clinic while others receive post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV.”
Some of the women said they did not want to report their sexual assault cases to the South African police because they are living illegally in that country.
“I can’t hand over myself to SAPS (South Africa Police Services) because I am here illegally,” said another woman who declined to be identified, but said she was 47 years old.
“Reporting the rape that occurred when I was crossing the Limpopo River means handing myself over. I can’t. I need to proceed.”
Officer commanding Beit-bridge Chief Superintendent Hosiah Muko-mbero said they would investigate and arrest any culprits if there are reports made.
“But it is difficult to investigate from one side of the border because these omaguma-guma are highly mobile,” he said.
“They could be on the other side of the border.”
Dr Giussepe Damola from the Medecins sans Frontieres clinic said since January, they had treated 15 sexually abused Zimbabwean women per month, but the numbers have since increased to 25.
“In March, we treated 35 sexually assaulted Zimbabwean women,” he said.
“We also provided some of them with post-exposure prophylaxis for those who presented their cases within 72 hours of the rape.”
Dr Damola said he believed the numbers of women who are sexually assaulted as they tried to illegally cross into South Africa was higher than those that presented themselves at the clinic.
“I believe the number (of sexually abused women) crossing into South Africa from Zimbabwe is higher than what we have recorded,” he said.
“Some of the women proceed to further destinations without coming to the clinic.”
Authorities on both sides of the border said they were beefing up security at the illegal crossing points, but warned that would fail to have an impact if the public did not co-operate.
“The women have to stop these illegal crossings,” said a South African senior police officer based at the border, who declined to be identified.
“Otherwise, they are just putting their lives in danger.
“They have to come forward and report for us to be able to investigate and arrest the culprits.”
While security officials figure out how to deal with the situation, omaguma-guma continue to rule the roost on the Zimbabwe-South Africa border.