The two Zimbabweans arrested over human trafficking after being found to have been transporting 14 children to Cape Town could face additional charges as the investigation, led by the Hawks, continues.
Tafadzwa Nakakurwa, 46, and his 41-year-old alleged accomplice, Beulla Maruza, appeared in the Kimberley District Court on Thursday.
Hawks spokesperson Tebogo Thebe said the two were seen boarding a bus, Big Sky Intercity Coaches, owned by Intercape, in Midrand with the undocumented children aged between 6 and 14.
“Police were alerted to the incident by a vigilant passenger in a bus from Midrand in Johannesburg en route to Cape Town. The bus made a stopover in Kimberley. The passenger called an off-duty police officer who, in turn, alerted the multi-disciplinary team.
“The suspects claimed to be taking the kids to their parents in Cape Town, information the police could not verify, leading to the arrests.
“The victims (eight boys and six girls) were inspected and looked dirty and without any additional clothes or bags. They were also hungry. A Provincial Trafficking in Persons rapid response team led by the Department of Social Development (DSD) was contacted to assist with placing the kids at a place of safety and providing food,” said Thebe.
DSD national spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said the children were still in the safe care and protection of their Northern Cape office.
“It is standard procedure that DSD will provide psycho-social support and make sure that the children were unharmed and also verify their nationality.
“If found to be non-South African, the department, through our International Social Service (ISS), will be in touch with the respective country. For purposes of reunification, the director-general of DSD is obligated by the Children’s Act ‘to authorise an adult at the state’s expense to escort the child from a place where the child was found to the place from which the child was trafficked’.
“The department will release the children once certain that they will be safe and protected in that country,” said Oliphant.
Long-distance bus operator Intercape said: “We were 100% aware of the situation and our staff gave full co-operation to the police.”
The incident comes as the Border Guards Authority has maintained that 42 buses with 443 unaccompanied children from Zimbabwe were found at Beitbridge on Sunday, about to enter the country. This is after the Zimbabwean Home Affairs Minister Ray Kazembe denied that such an incident had ever happened.
Also on Sunday, police arrested a suspect after 33 suspected human trafficking victims were found stashed in one room at a house in Benoni, in Gauteng.
Detectives from KwaZulu-Natal were tracing a suspect in connection with a case where a foreign national was kidnapped in Springfield Park, Durban, last week.
“Investigations led the police to a house in Benoni and, working together with other national police specialised units, the house was tactically penetrated and 33 male victims were found cramped in the house and one suspect was arrested,” police said.
UCT criminologist Dr Simon Howell said it was important for authorities to make it clear when a case was human trafficking or human smuggling because there was a difference between the two.
“Human trafficking was a serious crime that happened throughout the year.
“The difference was that during the festive season or busy periods the law enforcement resources were further stretched.
“It then becomes difficult from a personnel perspective to police intensively,” said Howell.