News / South Africa

Ilse de Lange
2 minute read
9 Nov 2017
6:30 am

Human trafficking exploiters spin web of drugs – expert

Ilse de Lange

He says the overwhelming majority of human trafficking cases involving Nigerians was a tangled web with a constant interplay of drugs, addiction and fear.

FILE PICTURE: Cocaine.

South Africa’s interwoven sex and drugs trade was a viable option with low risks and high earning potential, which was frequently ring-fenced by corrupt and compromised public officials in all spheres of government, a researcher on human trafficking has told the High Court in Pretoria.

Marcel van der Watt, a university lecturer and case manager for the National Freedom Network, testified in the trial of Nigerians Obioma Benjamin Abba, 32, and Chinedu Justice Obasi, 38, who have denied guilt to numerous charges ranging from human trafficking, money laundering and running a brothel, to drug-related charges.

A South African woman, Nolwazi Patience Mkhonto, is also on trial for allegedly subleasing her Sunnyside flat to the brothers knowing it would be used to harbour victims of human trafficking.

Van der Watt testified that a host of structural inequalities in South Africa not only oxygenated the human trafficking in the country, but contributed to a shrinking universe of choices for many who believed they had no reasonable alternative but to submit to exploitation.

He said the reason a victim did not flee should be weighed up in terms of the high levels of control exerted by the exploiter.

He said the compliance of victims, coupled with control and power, was a pervasive theme in the human trafficking process with great costs to victims, who were harmed psychologically and physically.

It was his experience over the past 15 years that traffickers effectively gained insights into the vulnerabilities of their victims and used a range of subtle coercive and manipulative methods to exert control and power over them.

They commonly used drugs to create an addiction among victims or to fuel existing dependencies and took advantage of victims’ social and economic vulnerabilities, such as their youth or lack of documentation.

The overwhelming majority of human trafficking cases involving Nigerians was a tangled web with a constant interplay of drugs, addiction, fear, manipulation and violence inflicted by pimps.

It often involved complex and bizarre love relationships between victims and their pimps, complex trauma and trauma bonding, health risks, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of law enforcement agencies and diminished support systems which left victims at the mercy of their exploiters who continued to ply their trade with impunity, he said.

The trial continues. – ilsedl@citizen.co.za

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