South African authorities should screen all officials, patrol back routes and introduce technology tools such as drones on the country’s borderlines if they are serious about fighting cross-border crime and human trafficking.
This is according to a former police officer turned crime researcher who spoke to African Times in the wake of the arrests of three suspects linked to cross-border human trafficking.
In the latest incident, police nabbed three people in connection with transporting 23 foreign nations believed to be Somalis in a minibus taxi in Tzaneen, Limpopo, last week.
The former officer, who has worked for the South African Police Service (SAPS), says human trafficking is rife, especially at the Beitbridge Border Post between South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as the borders between the country and Mozambique.
“We can deal with such if we deploy active policing across our border lines. Usage of technology monitor tools like your drones to cover the area. Community and police partnerships will also assist. If there is a screening of all law enforcement agencies working at the border lines, maybe that can also assist to deal with corruption that is rife there,” said a former police officer who asked for his name to be withheld for fear of victimisation.
“Based on my experience working at a police station along the Limpopo Valley, indeed, human trafficking is rife in Limpopo due to the proximity with our neighbours like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana. Although Botswana is not prevalent.”
Another source within SAPS said cross-border criminal and human trafficking syndicates have become sophisticated and are now using back routes across villages to avoid police roadblocks.
“Just like the illegal cigarette syndicate groups operating from Zimbabwe to South Africa, one can take note of the similar routes being used here. There’s a belief that the N1 from Musina to Gauteng via Makhado, Polokwane to Gauteng is too busy with police patrols on the highway. Therefore, syndicates now use the routes from Musina, Malale, Masisi, Makuya, and Pontdrift routes through the villages and avoid the N1 by all means to avoid police,” the sources said.
He added that the mode of transportation is public transport like taxis, buses, trucks, and petroleum tankers modified with steel compartments. Fruit and vegetable trucks and bakery trucks are also preferred.
Limpopo police spokesperson Brigadier Hlulani Mashaba said the 23 illegal foreigners were arrested after police stopped a Toyota Quantum in the Mooketsi area near Tzaneen in the Mopani district following a tip-off. The arrest location, about 100 kilometres east of Polokwane, suggests that the syndicate had used an unfamiliar route to avoid the N1 freeway between Musina and Pretoria in the province’s far north.
“Police received a tip-off from the taxi associations about a white minibus Toyota Quantum that was travelling along R81 road from north to Southern direction carrying twenty-five occupants,” said Mashaba.
“Upon arrival at the crime scene, they discovered two South African male suspects, a driver and his accomplice, a 28-year-old male with twenty-three Somalia national suspects. A gold Volkswagen Golf suddenly stopped at the scene; subsequently, the driver of the Quantum boarded the Golf and sped off from the scene, evading arrest. The police discovered 64 cross-border permits in the Toyota Quantum.”
Mashaba said two other suspects aged 33 and 47 were arrested after they entered the Modjadjiskloof police station and allegedly demanded the release of one of the first suspects. The men claimed the suspect was an innocent passenger who was offered a lift to Brits in North West province.
Police became suspicious and searched the men’s Toyota Hilux. They then found R415 820,000 hidden underneath the seat.
“When asked about the cash, they failed to explain, and they were arrested and charged with money laundering,” said Mashaba.
He said the police were working with the departments of Home Affairs and Social Development to process the cases of contravention of the immigration act involving minors.
Mashaba urged the public to assist police with information that could lead to the arrest of the other suspects who fled the scene in a Golf.
The trio and the group of foreign nationals are expected to appear before Bolobedu Magistrate’s Court on charges of money laundering and contravention of the immigration act.