Life, etc

The slave trade: Alive, kicking, and in a country very near you

By Shaun Swingler 18 November 2014

Slavery is not dead. The worldwide abolition merely drove it underground, and as a result it is generally underreported and poorly understood. But what we do know is that it’s a thriving business. By SHAUN SWINGLER.

The Walk Free Foundation has released its second annual report on the worldwide prevalence of slavery. Seen as a leading voice in the fight against modern slavery, the Index details the situation in 167 countries and found many southern African countries lacking.

According to the 2014 Global Slavery Index, 35.8 million people are currently enslaved across the globe. And by ‘enslaved’, the Index means: “One person possessing or controlling another person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty, with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal.”

Human trafficking and slavery most recently made the news after 14 Thai women aged between 20 and 26 were found in a suspected brothel north of Durban. All the women, and three South African men, were arrested for human trafficking.

When discussing human trafficking and slavery, it’s important to realise that the two concepts are not synonymous.

Professor Kevin Bales, modern slavery expert and lead author of the report, explains that human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation or transfer of a person with the intent of exploiting that person. “Trafficking is a mechanism that facilities slavery,” he continues. “Only 10-15% of all people enslaved are victims of trafficking. Most are enslaved in their own countries or in their own neighbourhoods.”

Bales further adds that the average price of slaves has dropped dramatically worldwide. For the last 4,000 years, that price of a slave was consistently around $40,000-$50,000. But now, largely due to the population boom in the ‘60s, a slave will sell at an average cost of $90-$100.

Africa has a number of countries with a high proportion of people enslaved. Mauritania is number one in the world, with an estimated 4% of its population in modern slavery; Democratic Republic of Congo is 7th, Central African Republic 10th, and Republic of Congo 11th.

Southern African countries are only marginally better: Namibia is 17th, Botswana 18th, Mozambique 22nd, Malawi 25th, Zambia 26th, Lesotho 31st, Tanzania 33rd, Swaziland 50th, Angola 65th, Zimbabwe 66th, and finally South Africa is 126th.

According to the report, South Africa is estimated to have only 0.2% of its population in slavery. While that percentage is low, it still equates to an estimated 106,000 people currently enslaved in the country. If measured by absolute number, South Africa jumps up the list dramatically to 45.

South Africa, according to the report, has shown a limited response to modern slavery and has provided limited victim services. The report states that it does have some policies in place to provide protection to those vulnerable to slavery.

In terms of government response, South Africa was the 9th best performing African country out of the 46 measured. It scored well on the Index’s criminal justice metric, but low on its co-ordination and accountability metric. South Africa’s neighbours didn’t fare as well. Namibia scored 18th, Mozambique 20th, Botswana 21st, Lesotho 28th, Zimbabwe 34th and Swaziland 39th.

When asked why South Africa’s neighbouring countries had performed so poorly, Bales explained that it was an underlying problem of economics and infrastructure.

But in the case of Botswana, which was the second worst performing southern African country, the economy is steadily growing. How is this accounted for?

“It all depends on how they make use of the resources that comes with the growing economy,” Bales says. “If it’s actually leading to more protections and better medical care and more education, if there’s a social good spin-off, a human capital spin-off, it’s going to reduce the problem. If the economy is growing rapidly and the money is just going into the pockets of the rich, then not much will change at the level of the vulnerable.”

In South Africa, steps are being taken to address the problem of human trafficking and slavery; however, progress has been slow.

In 2000, the United Nations adopted the Palermo Convention, a multi-lateral treaty against organised crime, which focuses specifically on eradicating the trafficking of persons. South Africa signed the Convention in 2000 and ratified it in 2004 with the addendum: “The Government of the Republic does not consider itself bound by the terms of Article 15 (2) of the Protocol, which provides for the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in differences arising out of the interpretation or application of the Protocol.”

However, it took nine years for the country to pass its own human trafficking bill. In July 2013, President Zuma signed into law the Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act; however, the law is not yet enforceable.

As spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services, Advocate Mthunzi Mhaga explains: “Although there are some sections of the Act which can be put into operation, many other sections require regulations, as required by section 43 of the Act, to function. The provisions of the Act are so interdependent that a fragmental implementation approach could result in a disjointed legislative framework, giving rise to uncertainty and confusion, which, in turn, is not ideal in law.”

He further explains that there are national instructions and directives which also need to be tabled in Parliament before the act can be fully operational.

“The regulations, as well as the national instructions and directives of the various departments, are in an advanced stage of finalisation,” Mhaga says.

While the Global Slavery Index painted a picture of South Africa that was far less grim than its neighbours, that’s not to be considered a victory. South Africa’s sluggish implementation of an anti-trafficking law is worrying and is likely to stand in the way properly addressing the problem of human trafficking and modern slavery if it is not addressed soon. DM

Photo: Shackles used to control slaves in South Africa in the 18th century on display at the Slave Lodge in Cape Town, South Africa Thursday 22 March 2007. The city of Cape Town was built by slave labourers under the control of the Dutch East India Company which brought slaves from East Africa and India as well as enslaved thousands of local San and Khoi peoples after the Company arrived in the Cape from Europe. Sunday 25 March 2007 marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. EPA/NIC BOTHMA

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