In the year 2020 it is quite strange to think that slavery does not just exist in the dirty crevasses of society or the dark pages of human history, as people like to believe—it instead is a leading multi-Billion dollar industry, running at an optimum due to mass demand.
According to Human Rights First, an independent advocacy and action organisation focusing on human rights, an estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Out of this figure, a staggering 16 million (64%) are exploited for labour, while a further 4.8 million (19%) are sexually exploited.
But when looking deeper into the matter, are towns such as Newcastle and Madadeni affected by human trafficking?
According to the Newcastle branch of South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), this sordid crime is without question present throughout these smaller communities and is not only found in cities, as many would believe.
With human trafficking being a matter of colossal concern, The Newcastillian – Online News was invited by the Hawks to join the team on an awareness campaign on Friday, 23 October 2020. During the campaign, the officers visited several factories in Newcastle and Madadeni—seeing the Hawks educating various employees on what is classified as human trafficking.
Furthermore, they also visited the taxi rank and the Newcastle Crisis Centre. While the Crisis Centre is known for its work with abuse, it is also an accredited place of safety for human trafficking victims.
Sharing insight on human trafficking in both South Africa and the Newcastle area, Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo, the Communications Officer for the Hawks, alongside Newcastle’s Captain Francisca du Plooy and Captain TN Cele shared their knowledge and experiences on the subject.
Human trafficking for sexual exploitation is a matter of grave concern; however, this is an issue which usually takes place in larger cities such as Johannesburg. Captain du Plooy clarifies, “Those involved in this type of trafficking actually place orders. They will say what must be the person’s sex, eye and hair colour, race and body type.”
In Newcastle, the most common form of human trafficking can be found in the labour sector. Captain Cele points out this is where factory owners not only keep their staff locked up, but predominantly use people from outside SA.
The reason for this, as Captain du Plooy highlights, is due to the circumstances they experienced in their own country. She elaborates, “They will earn less than the minimum wages, but because of their country’s economic status, they will keep quiet and continue working.”
Additionally, the employers will usually have their staff come through to South Africa on a visitor’s visa. When the individual must return home to renew their visa, the employer will withhold the bulk of their weekly wages, therefore forcing the person to come back.
Not only do the victims of this disgusting crime receive virtually no money for their work, but they also have to live in atrocious conditions.
The three Hawks officials explain this involves several people not only sleeping in the factory but being forced to share one toilet and then preparing their food next to the said toilet. And according to Captain du Plooy, women are often forced to clean themselves with no form of privacy.
With people from all walks of life, religions, races and age groups falling victim to the nefarious deeds of traffickers, Captain Mhlongo says the primary purpose of the campaign was to educate people. He concludes by saying, “Education plays an important role in fighting this type of crime. As we cannot be everywhere at once, we can educate people on what to look out for, so when they spot it or suspect human trafficking is taking place, they can contact the necessary authorities.”
Thank you to the Hawks for a fruitful day on the streets of Newcastle and Madadeni. One thing is definite; the team of professionals are determined to keep the community under their protective wing.
Authors: Quinton Boucher & Calvin Swemmer
Edited: Calvin Swemmer