The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, including maintaining insufficient efforts to address widespread official complicity in trafficking. PACOTIP criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to life imprisonment, a fine of up to 100 million South African rand (ZAR) ($6.82 million), or both. The penalties were sufficiently stringent; however, with regard to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, the prescribed punishment was not commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The implementing regulations for PACOTIP’s immigration provisions found in Sections 15, 16, and 31(2)(b)(ii) have not been promulgated; therefore, critical sections of the act remained inactive for the eighth consecutive year. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offenses and related matters) Amendment Act of 2007 (CLAA) also criminalized the sex trafficking of children and adults and prescribed penalties of up to life in prison; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997 (BCEA), amended in 2014, criminalized forced labor and prescribed maximum penalties of three to six years’ imprisonment. In addition, the Children’s Amendment Act of 2005 prescribed penalties of five years to life imprisonment or fines for the use, procurement, or offer of a child for slavery, commercial sexual exploitation, or to commit crimes. Prosecutors sometimes relied on the Prevention of Organized Crime Act of 1998 in combination with CLAA, which added additional charges—such as money laundering, racketeering, or criminal gang activity—and increased penalties of convicted defendants.
The Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI, or Hawks) collaborated closely with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to compile evidence and build cases. Together they investigated 31 cases of trafficking during the reporting period. This is an increase compared to investigating 24 new cases in the previous reporting period. Most suspected traffickers were foreign nationals, particularly from Nigeria, China, and Bangladesh. The government prosecuted 31 new trafficking cases of an unknown number of individuals and continued prosecutions in 14 cases from prior reporting periods, compared to prosecution of 71 individuals for trafficking crimes in an unknown number of cases during the previous reporting period. The government convicted seven traffickers in an unknown number of cases, compared to the conviction of eight traffickers in five cases in the previous year. Judges sentenced two traffickers to life imprisonment and five traffickers to between 22 and 25 years’ imprisonment. While in the previous year, judges utilized the solicitation of sex trafficking victims section of the anti-trafficking act and convicted 34 people for sexual exploitation, grooming for sexual exploitation, solicitation, and keeping a brothel, the government did not report data for these provisions during the reporting period.
The government continued, from prior reporting periods, some law enforcement actions against government officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses. The court convicted a former Johannesburg Metro Police Department superintendent on three counts of rape and human trafficking; he awaited sentencing at the close of the reporting period. A 2019 case against four police officers in Pretoria accused of human trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion of 10 Bangladeshi nationals remained ongoing. The government did not report an update on the Ministry of Defense’s December 2019 task team created to investigate sexual exploitation and abuse cases within its armed forces dating back to 2014. The government placed a “prominent person” under investigation for labor exploitation and money laundering involving 105 Ethiopian victims allegedly forced to make counterfeit goods in two factories.
Despite these actions, NGOs and researchers continued to report widespread official complicity in human trafficking that went unaddressed, particularly among the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), the Department of Social Development (DSD), SAPS, and the DPCI. An academic report made allegations that law enforcement protected traffickers, including that at least three dozen police protected or tipped off traffickers, SAPS officials leaked information on operations to traffickers, and DSD returned survivors to their traffickers. The government reported allegation that a SAPS official forced individuals to work on her farm but did not report whether it was investigating the case. International organizations reported that in one trafficking case, police returned a victim to her trafficker. Some officials committed sex trafficking by forcing individuals to perform commercial sex acts in exchange for visas or residence permits. Civil society reported to law enforcement cases of sex trafficking of Basotho women from Lesotho in South African brothels, but law enforcement did not take action that resulted in investigations, prosecutions, or convictions. Observers reported the lack of progress over several years to disrupt the suspected traffickers was due to official complicity of both Basotho and South African officials closely linked to the brothels. There were continued reports of officials accepting bribes to: falsify trafficking victims’ travel documents, not report trafficking in brothels, not prosecute pimps who facilitated trafficking, and facilitate deportation of migrants so farm or factory managers would not have to pay their workers. Some police accepted kickbacks from organized criminal syndicates, which often facilitated trafficking, and some police did not pursue traffickers out of fear of reprisals. NGOs and asylum applicants reported immigration officials sought bribes from asylum seekers seeking legal permits to remain in the country, which may have increased vulnerability to traffickers. Civil society and observers continued to report that the government lacked a safe process, free from retribution, for reporting alleged police corruption and complicity, and that even when civil society did report such allegations, the government did not respond. In the previous reporting period, the government and four NGOs began negotiating memoranda of understanding on procedures for the NGOs to safely submit sensitive information, including on corruption and official complicity; the parties did not finalize these memoranda during the reporting period.
Law enforcement agencies, particularly SAPS, had insufficient resources to address all reported trafficking cases, including child trafficking leads. Even when agencies had sufficient resources and civil society referred suspected trafficking cases, however, civil society reported that some law enforcement units were notably less responsive to trafficking referrals than in previous years and were, on multiple occasions, unwilling to initiate investigations into the reported cases. Western Cape and City of Cape Town had “Vice Squads” within their law enforcement that had responsibility to proactively identify sex trafficking within commercial sex establishments. Some observers reported positive experiences working with the unit, while others noted they were only reactive and did not proactively investigate tips of alleged sex trafficking. In part due to the pandemic, the government did not comprehensively monitor or investigate forced child labor or the labor trafficking of adults in the agricultural, mining, construction, and fishing sectors. NGOs that provided trafficking victim care reported police were noticeably less responsive to their case inquiries and did not provide status updates on ongoing cases. Victims reported this lack of clarity on their case status, as well as the frequent delays in court cases and low prospects of success, dissuaded them from participating in trials against their traffickers.
The pandemic reduced the government’s capacity to provide training; thus, it trained fewer law enforcement, social workers, and judicial officials on trafficking than in the previous reporting period. Nevertheless, it collaborated with international organizations to hold 12 in-person and virtual anti-trafficking trainings. The trainings reached 283 officials, including from police, social services, and labor officials. This was a decrease from leading 24 interdisciplinary trainings that reached 359 front-line officials and collaborating with NGOs and an international organization to conduct another 16 trainings that reached at least 680 participants during the previous reporting period. Police lacked training on trafficking, particularly in how to conduct anti-trafficking investigations and treat trafficking survivors.