A total of 57 Malawian children and young adults were rescued and three people arrested on charges of human trafficking after two vigilant police constables pulled over a truck in Rustenburg, North West, over the weekend.
Acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane yesterday said the children, between the ages of 11 and 21, were transported “like goods” in a small, closed truck without windows and only a small opening in the roof.
Eighteen of the children are girls and 39 boys.
“These kids are from a very poor area in Malawi. They were each paid between R2 000 and R2 500 to be brought to South Africa with possible promises of further payment when they got here,” Phahlane said at a briefing at the Tshwane Training Academy in Pretoria West.
This rescue was the work of constables Manganyi and Sikuza, who were on routine patrol duty when they stopped a truck driving at high speed early on Sunday. When the three adults could not provide any documentation or reason for the children being transported, they were arrested for human trafficking.
“Two of the children fell to the ground when the police officers opened the truck,” Phahlane said.
The suspects were arrested and appeared briefly in the Rustenburg Regional Court yesterday on 57 counts of human trafficking. They remain in custody.
“All the children are in a place of safety under the auspices of the department of social development,” Phahlane said.
He was concerned about how the children crossed the South African border.
“We do not have reason at this stage to raise alarms to say that we have insecure border control,” he told The Citizen. But “they … did not have the necessary papers to be in the country.” He said: “An investigation is under way that involves authorities and law enforcement agencies.
“This includes engagements with our counterparts in Malawi and the embassy of Malawi. I cannot say at this stage that there is a syndicate, but the mere fact that there was money involved tells me it is sponsored and that there is someone with money involved.”
The new law provides for a maximum penalty of R100 million or life imprisonment, or both, in the case of a conviction.