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Human trafficking: Chipinge’s unsolved challenge

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Nomatter Machona (17) a student at Vheneka Secondary School in Chipinge met a group of men recruiting workers for “an Indian-owned supermarket in South Africa”. “The Indian tycoon also runs a chain of fast foods outlets and each worker is paid R5000 (US$450) per month plus accommodation and overtime allowances,” she was told.

She was also promised she could take up courses that her prospective employer would pay for if she so wished. Machona could not wait for her poor and struggling parents’ approval, this was ‘manna from heaven’ and she grabbed it with both hands.

Together with 16 other girls of her age they left for Johannesburg, South Africa. On arrival, the recruiters handed them over to a brothel owner falsely introduced as the wife of the Indian tycoon before they disappeared.

For six months the girls were abused, raped and assaulted by countless male patrons of the brothel. She was saved by one of the men who smuggled her out of the brothel to his house and gave her money to come back home.

Nomatter’s story is typical of numerous such cases in Chipinge. Because of its proximity to South Africa and Mozambique, the district has fallen prey to human trafficking as notorious syndicates rake in thousands of dollars from uninformed and poverty stricken villagers keen to follow up on promises of employment, education and marriage.

“It is all because of our limited knowledge and lack information on such dangerous activities,” lamented headman Chisumbanje.

He said the problem has resulted in the loss of manpower as boys and girls are blindly flocking to South Africa leaving parents without anyone to help in the fields.

The conmen are unperturbed as they continue to employ new and creative tactics to convince poor and desperate Zimbabweans that they can make a fortune in South Africa and other neighboring countries.

Rosemary Sidhuna (22), also a victim of human trafficking, said she was promised a R4 000 (US$350) per month job in Cape Town only to find herself stuck on a farm in Musina. For six months she worked without being paid. “I only escaped with the help of a farm security guard,” Sidhuna said. She has since returned home and has ventured into cotton farming in Chipinge.

Many people interviewed claimed to know people who left for South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique in the company of strangers.

Sarudzai Mhlanga, a Chisumbanje villager said some of the victims had since established themselves as full time commercial sex workers in South Africa after undergoing what she termed a ‘mentoring’ process.

Another village head, Karakadzai Machona of Madhuku village said, he was aware of the activities of human traffickers whom he said always employed new tricks making it difficult to address the problem.

“I always stress on the need to deal with trusted people when going to South Africa but frequently we come across different experiences,” Machona said.

Many men and women currently working in South Africa said they underwent nerve wracking experiences on their way to South Africa. Tafadzwa Sarimana who came home for the Christmas holidays said he managed to escape after the human trafficking syndicate that recruited him was ambushed by South African police at Musina in South Africa.

“They took all my money leaving me stranded without food and bus fare to complete my journey, I gave myself up to the South African Police so I could get back home,” he said. Sarimana later applied for a passport before returning to South Africa, where he is now working as a security guard.

Other girls said traffickers assisting people to cross the Limpopo River into South Africa often rape and rob their victims before handing them over to South African employers who often abuse them.

A Vheneka Secondary School teacher, Idea Sithole said schools were losing a considerable number of students who are heading to South Africa as a result of dubious job promises.

Sithole added that their fathers and forefathers went to South Africa where they worked mainly in mines and the trend continues. Sithole appealed for combined efforts in fighting human trafficking.

International Organization for Migration (IOM) Media and Public Information Assistant, Folen Murapa noted that Zimbabwe’s geographical position lends itself to be used as a transit point for both human trafficking and human smuggling for persons trafficked from Asia, Europe and from other African countries.

“In Zimbabwe, young women, men and children are being lured to South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, Angola, Egypt, Europe and Asia with false promises of employment, education or marriage,” said Murapa.

Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) said the absence of specific provisions on human trafficking in Zimbabwean law made it difficult for them to address the issue. “We only deal with breaches of the Children’s Act, the Sexual Offences Act and the Criminal Law Codification (Reform) Act when confronted with trafficking cases in Zimbabwe,” says a statement released from ZRP.

Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) a human rights non-governmental organization views the absence of such provisions on human trafficking as a legal deficit that makes it difficult to prosecute those involved.

“Despite the fact that the Zimbabwean Criminal Code criminalizes sexual exploitation, the absence of specific provision on human trafficking creates a huge deficit in the legal framework,” a RAU report says.

The United States Trafficking in Person report for 2011 notes that Zimbabwe is a source, transit and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation in South Africa, Botswana, Asia, Europe and many other countries.

No specific data has been availed on the number of people trafficked because of the clandestine nature of the business.

Since the inception of Counter Trafficking programme in September 2006, IOM has assisted 43 victims (25 female and 18 male) who had been duped into leaving Zimbabwe on promises which proved to be false.

IOM’s Murapa said the organization is conducting mass public awareness campaigns, disseminating Information Education and Communication (IEC) material, training and holding workshops to raise awareness about human trafficking. - http://www.swradioafrica.com