South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Justice and Correctional Services John Jeffery has acknowledged the general low level of prosecution for the crime of trafficking in persons globally, saying in South Africa such cases were usually anecdotal and existed mainly in public discussions, including on social media.

This pointed to the need for improvement in law enforcement and prosecution, he said.

Echoing the same sentiment was Vincent Ratshibvuma, a judge based in Mpumalanga province who said while there was talk of human trafficking being widely prevalence in the province, very few cases were brought to the courts. This was despite Mpumalanga’s proximity to the border with Mozambique and Eswatini.

“That is why I made a case for the NPA (the National Prosecuting Authority) to be trained in such cases since they are the ones who bring cases to court,” he said.

Mr Jeffery and Judge Ratshibvuma were speaking at a colloquium of judicial officers jointly organized by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the South African Judicial Education Institute (SAJEI). The three-day gathering was held in Johannesburg and meant to familiarize magistrates with the intricacies of trafficking in persons and migrants smuggling.

South Africa is a preferred country of destination for many types of migrants, including smuggled migrants, with the trafficking of persons believed to be rife.

Mr Jeffery described trafficking in persons as a crime that does not stop at national borders and “that’s why cooperation is important.”

Judge Ratshibvuma noted that all of South Africa’s neighbours had signed the Trafficking Protocol. “Unless you have the cooperation of your neighbours fighting trafficking in persons is not going to work,” he said.

UNODC Southern Africa Regional Jane Marie Ongolo said the organization was involved in the compilation of a Southern African Regional Case Digest to assist with the prosecution of cases. “We realized that, sadly, the highest percentage of crimes in the region relate to trafficking for sexual exploitation. And mostly involves minors,” she said.

UNODC was also cooperating with the South African Police Service to roll out of training for law enforcement officials. The aim was to close the identified gap in evidence gathering and follow-up.

Teresa Horne, a judicial trainer with SAJEI, elaborated on the trend towards the growing use of ordinary residents and hotels as brothels.

According to Ms Ongolo, Africans continue to move across the continent in search of economic opportunities, policymakers need to work at making migration safe, regular and a force that can be harnessed for development, both in countries of origin and destination.

Contrary to perceptions that many Africans are making their way to Europe, the vast majority of those thinking about migrating have no interest in leaving the continent and have no intention of moving permanently.

“An argument can be made that migration in etched in Africans’ DNA, that Africans have and will always move within and across the continent, and that they are not about to stop,” Ms Ongolo said.

About the Southern Africa Migration Management (SAMM) project

The judicial colloquium was organized under the SAMM project which is funded by the European Union and is a collaboration of four UN agencies: UNODC, ILO, IOM and UNHCR, under the one-UN model. The overall objective is to improve migration management in the Southern Africa and Indian Ocean region.

By Wilson Johwa