Welkom – Authorities have arrested six people they believe to be involved in a human trafficking ring in Odendaalsrus, Welkom, the Hawks said on Friday.
On Wednesday, the Hawks and Welkom police acted on information received from Interpol relating to a victim who was allegedly trafficked from Lesotho, and kept against her will at a farm in Odendaalsrus.
Hawks. (Theana Breugem, Media24, file)
When authorities arrived at the scene, four more victims were rescued.
"A security guard and a manager at the farm were arrested on the spot," Hawks spokesperson Captain S'fiso Nyakane said.
According to Nyakane, preliminary investigations led the team to Khune Village in Welkom where two women, who are believed to be recruiters for the ring, were arrested.
"An additional two suspects, a receptionist and a security guard, were arrested at a lodge apparently operating as [a] brothel in Welkom, wherein four victims were rescued."
He added that the victims were being kept at a place of safety.
"Investigations continue, further arrests cannot be ruled out."
The accused are expected to appear before Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on charges of human trafficking.
'I thought I was coming here to earn money for my child' -Trafficking victim (15 January 2018)
Two woman Margaret and Doris (NOT THEIR REAL NAMES), who are believed to have been trafficked, pose for an anonymous picture. Ten people including those from Lesotho and South Africa were found and rescued from the farm, near Welkom, in The Free State. Six suspects were arrested for alleged human trafficking.
Image: ALON SKUY
She sits silently on a chair‚ hands clenched‚ eyes wide. Margaret* looks around her‚ frightened‚ unsure of where she is or whom she can trust.
It's been just three days since she was rescued from a Free State farmhouse by an elite police unit. The house is one of dozens of properties owned by a Welkom businessman – the alleged mastermind of an international human trafficking ring.
Margaret had just finished school when she was brought to South Africa under the alleged pretext of becoming a cleaner‚ hundreds of kilometres from her rural Lesotho home.
Her rescue by Hawks officers occurred just hours before she was allegedly to become a sex slave at one of the lodges and remote farms operated in and outside of the town by a syndicate.
Margaret said when she arrived in Welkom she was taken to a lodge where she was greeted by the kingpin's wife. As she was settling in‚ police raided the lodge and arrested several suspects.
"I had no idea. When the police told me what was happening‚ I was scared to hear what was going to happen to me.
"I thought I was coming for a legitimate job."
Doris*‚ who was rescued along with her two cousins‚ was about to be sold off as a slave. Doris and her cousins had been brought from Bloemfontein after their aunt told them of a woman looking for cleaning staff. The thought of what could have happened leaves her cold.
"We were welcomed at the lodge by a white lady. She showed us around‚ and then we were split up. Another woman came to watch over me‚" Doris said.
"They didn't say where my cousins were going‚ just that they had to work elsewhere."
She said when she saw her cousin with police‚ who had rescued her from another lodge‚ she became frightened.
"I didn't know what was happening. The police asked us who we were and where the owner was. They told us why they were there and explained what was about to happen to us‚ and what we would have had to do.
"Had it not been for God‚ those people would have done all those things to us. I thought I was coming here to earn money for my child‚ but instead it was for something else."
*Not their real names
How a 'shop assistant' helped bust human trafficking ring (15 January 2018)
David (NOT HIS REAL NAME), who is believed to have been trafficked, and who blew the whistle on the alleged traffickers, poses for an anonymous picture. Ten people including those from Lesotho and South Africa were found and rescued from the farm, near Welkom, in The Free State. Six suspects were arrested for alleged human trafficking.
Image: ALON SKUY
David* arrived in South Africa last week‚ with the promise of work as a shop assistant in the Free State mining town of Welkom.
Instead‚ with the threat of violence and death hanging over him‚ he was forced to guard women who had been lured from across southern Africa to the Free State with the promise of work.
The syndicate‚ which operates primarily out of Lesotho‚ preys on people's desperation for work. Like scores of others‚ David believed the offer‚ made by two Lesotho women he knew‚ was the answer to getting his family out of a life of poverty. The women recruited David and three other men‚ who used false passports to travel across the border and into South Africa.
"We were told there was lots of work in Welkom. That we could earn R2‚400 a month. That's a lot of money for someone from Lesotho. We were desperate‚" David said.
An employee is seen on the premises of a farm. Ten people including those from Lesotho and South Africa were found and rescued from the farm, near Welkom, in The Free State. Six suspects were arrested for alleged human trafficking.
Image: ALON SKUY
Once through the border‚ the men were driven to a taxi rank in Welkom. It was here that David began to think that something was wrong.
"We couldn't get hold of the man who we were to work for. We wanted to go to the police‚ but the woman ordered us not to. She told us not to worry‚ that everything would be okay‚" he said.
"She spoke to our taxi driver and then afterwards another taxi came to collect us."
Ordered into the minibus-taxi‚ the men were driven to a "guest lodge"‚ where they spent the night. The next day they were taken to a farm‚ where they were told they would be trained. Instead the training was not on how to be a shop assistant.
"A man came to us. He was screaming at us. He told us that he had killed people before‚ driven over them with cars and that if we did not listen‚ it would happen to us‚" he said.
"He told me that I was going to be a guard‚ and that I was to guard women brought to the farm to work."
Questioning why the women needed guarding and what work they were doing‚ the man threatened David with his life. For days David was beside himself with fear‚ unable to reach his wife and sisters‚ who were set to join him.
On Tuesday‚ using a cellphone he had hidden on himself‚ David eventually managed to get hold of his wife.
"I begged her not to come. I told her what was happening. That they would be in danger if they got into the taxi that was coming for them."
His wife alerted a Lesotho police officer‚ who in turn went to the South African embassy. Embassy officials immediately contacted Interpol in Lesotho and the Hawks.
Heavily armed police raided farms and lodges outside Welkom‚ along with several businesses‚ arresting six alleged traffickers and rescuing 10 people.
"I just thank God that he was able to show me what was happening. If he hadn't‚ my wife and sisters would have been trapped here."
*Not his real name