Motswana Human Trafiicking Victim Speaks Out

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Thapelo (not her real name) is a single mom with a steady job in Gaborone at a parastatal, but who yearned for something more adventurous and a place to relocate her three kids.

When Matilda, a long-term acquaintance told Thapelo that a good job could be had in Canada, Thapelo jumped at the opportunity. Thapelo would have to come up with funds to get there, along with other expenses.

Thapelo transferred her property title deed to Matilda, who promised to sell it as a way of supporting Thapelo en route and making other arrangements. Thapelo’s three children, with all their documents, were also placed in Matilda’s care, to await the time when Thapelo could have them join her.

Thapelo resigned her job and soon was on a bus with another supposed job-seeker recruited by Matilda. In Johannesburg, they were met by Matilda’s contact, Mohammed, who gave them air tickets to Mauritius, where they would then receive tickets for Paris and Canada. 

After reaching Paris, they got stuck for days until Thapelo’s friend sent her money to continue to Canada.  After arrival, Canadian officials put Thapelo in a holding facility (her co-traveller claimed to be a political refugee and was placed in a separate facility), where Thapelo met other women recruited by people like Matilda, convinced a good job was waiting.  The lady in charge bluntly told Thapelo that no jobs were waiting for her, unless she was prepared to enter the sex trade.  

Thapelo, fortunately, had a relative living in Canada who put Thapelo in touch with the NGO, Turn Around, which assists trafficked people.  They helped Thapelo return to Botswana.  Back home, Matilda threatened that if Thapelo went to the police, her children would be sold off overseas (Matilda had all their papers). 

Thapelo went to the police anyway who tracked down Mohammed in Johannesburg and arrested him, who then confessed he had “buyers” in the USA for Thapelo’s three children. Thapelo has her children back, but she is unemployed, without accommodation, and is dependent on her extended family to look after her children.

How common is this form of human trafficking in Botswana, not to mention the entrapment of children and yes, men, into working in conditions equivalent to modern slavery?  Little is known publicly about this phenomenon.

What is meant by ‘human trafficking’?  It means that victims are transported for the purpose of forced labour or any practice that is similar to slavery or servitude, sexual exploitation, the removal of organs or other forms of inhuman treatment over which one has no control.

Those who deal in trafficking are those who knowingly recruit, abduct, transfer or transport a person for purposes of exploitation using coercive, fraudulent, deceptive methods that ensure complete control over the person.  Traffickers are often part of an organised network of collection, delivery, and enslavement at the end point. 

Not everyone who is transported is being trafficked.  Migration is a world-wide phenomenon with all sorts of push-and-pull factors that operate independently of human trafficking.  North Africans making their way across the Mediterranean, for example, pay someone to transport them to an island or coastal drop-off, at which point the migrants are on their own. 

The process is entirely voluntary, though very risky.  Likewise people leaving Somalia, Ethiopia, and Malawi have ways of reaching South Africa where they seek their own opportunities.  Predators may be waiting, but they are not part of a syndicate that has brought such persons into South Africa and forced them into submission in a mine, a fishing boat, or a brothel. 

Human trafficking is a global phenomenon that has become extremely profitable for organised criminal elements. 

According the intergovernmental International Organisation for Migration (IOM), founded 1951, in southern Africa in 2013 alone, more than 4 million migrants were on the move, with 60 percent of those reaching South Africa, and nearly 150,000 arriving in Botswana.  How many of these were victims of trafficking is not known. 

However, the International Labour Organisation’s draft 2014 report on migration in SADC countries observes that “One of the key challenges is the greater incidence of undocumented or irregular migration through human smuggling, forced migration and human trafficking. This highlights significant shortcomings in border control and the administration of migration procedures, including corruption by officials in origin, transit and destination countries.”

Public Forum on Human Trafficking.  Wednesday, 27 May.  Come to hear “Thapelo” tell her own story along with presentations by Veronica Dabutha (Director of the Masiela Fund) and Kegakgametse Malete (Senior Superintendent, National Crime Prevention Coordinator, Botswana Police). 

Venue: Main Hall (wheelchair accessible), Livingston Kolobeng College, Block 8, starting at 6 p.m.  The event is free and open to the public.  Sponsored by The Botswana Society, Mmegi/Monitor, Livingstone Kolobeng College, Weekend Post, and Sunday Standard. 

Fred Morton with the assistance of Bono Mmusi, Ben Labaschin, Katie Larson, Kayla Shoun, and Hannah Lieck.

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