Women for sale – at R5 000

2010-03-21 10:13

MANY southern African countries, including Mozambique, have adopted

anti-trafficking legislation. Our legislation has been in the making for more

than a decade, but our investigation has revealed that trafficking syndicates

operate almost with impunity in South Africa.

Our probe started in Johannesburg four weeks ago when our

journalist, acting as a brothel owner, made inquiries about buying young

Mozambican prostitutes.

We were introduced to a Johannesburg accomplice of the Mozambican

syndicate who said he had been helping the gang since 2004 to bring scores of

girls and women to Johannesburg. The women and girls were delivered to brothels

and clubs in Randburg and Hillbrow.

“Some were as young as 16,” he said. “They were told in Mozambique

they were going to be waitresses, but when they got here the traffickers told

them they are ­actually whores.

“Those who refused were beaten up and even raped until they


Not knowing who we really were, the traffickers allowed us to

travel with them to Maputo, where we were introduced to four members of the

syndicate. We tape- recorded most of the conversations.

One of the men we met, Umberto Quive, is a bank official in Maputo.

He is in charge of sending photos of the girls to clients.

The syndicate, made up of about 15 Mozambicans and several Chinese,

includes so-called “transporters”, “recruiters”, “sweepers” and “keepers”. The

head of the syndicate is a businessman with the name “Jethule”. We requested a

meeting with him, but he sent a message that he’d meet with us only once we’d

purchased women.

Nando Matsingi, who lives in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, is the

main transporter and travels weekly to Maputo in his double-cab Isuzu to collect

women. He says “friendly” cops help him to smuggle the women through the Lebombo

border post.

“I took three girls last week – one Chinese and two Mozambicans,”

said Matsingi. “I dropped them in Hillbrow. They are gone now.”

José Machava and Antonio Tavela are recruiters and keepers. We

asked if the syndicate also supplied underaged girls.

“Yes,” said Tavela, “we can get them any time. It is easy but we

need more time.”

After several days in Maputo befriending the traffickers, they

finally agreed to display their human merchandise to us.

Two weeks ago we entered a seedy flat in downtown Maputo where

three Mozambican women, all apparently 18 years old, were offered for sale at

R5?000 each.

Palmiera, Alice and Maria, who were being looked after by older

women, were ordered to dress nicely before being paraded for us. We were allowed

to take their photographs. They were delighted to pose for us – still under the

impression that they were going to be waitresses in South Africa.

The R5?000 for each woman, the traffickers said, included transport

and “preparing” them for prostitution. They assured us that by the time the

girls were delivered to us they would have been “spoken” to and ready to sleep

with men.

“We tell them straight once we are in South Africa,” said Tavela.

“Don’t worry, you will not have any problem with them. We speak to them.”

During our investigation we discovered that this “speaking to”

sometimes includes rape. When the girls arrive at safe houses in Johannesburg

their passports and money are confiscated and they are told they are going to be


Those who refuse or resist are intimidated, assaulted and sexually

violated. They are then dumped at clubs and brothels.

The next day we were driven to a rundown mansion in Matola, on the

outskirts of Maputo. There were six Chinese women who had recently arrived on a

cargo ship in the port city of Beira in central Mozambique. The syndicate

transported them to Maputo, where Chinese members of the syndicate and several

other gangsters guarded the house.

The traffickers told us four of the Chinese women had already been

sold and were unavailable. Two Chinese girls, one 19 and the other 20, were

still up for grabs at a price of R10?000 each. We were told they wanted to be

prostitutes and knew what was awaiting them in South Africa.

“They’re happy to do it,” said Tavela. “In fact they are already

giving us massages.”

Our journalist agreed to buy two Mozambican and two Chinese women.

We asked the syndicate to keep the women until we returned to Mozambique to

arrange for their transport to Johannesburg and delivery to our fictitious


When we met with Tavela, Machava and Matsingi again on Tuesday we

discovered that three of the five girls who were offered to us had already been

taken to Johannesburg and one had gone to Durban.

The traffickers said they could get more Mozambican girls within a

few days and that two Chinese women were coming on Saturday. They were still for

sale and could be in Johannesburg on Sunday.

In the meantime, a go-between had made contact with the Mozambican

minister of home affairs on behalf of Media24 and informed him of the activities

of the syndicate. Police in Mozambique fall under home affairs. On Tuesday we

met a top ­official in the ministry.

On Wednesday, during another meeting with the syndicate, an

undercover police team pounced and arrested Tavela, Machava and Matsingi in a

central Maputo bar.

The 18-year-old Palmiera, who was supposed to have been transported

to South Africa that same day, was taken away with the traffickers and might be

used as a ­witness against them.

Nobody has been convicted of trafficking in Mozambique, even though

it adopted anti-trafficking legislation in 2008, says Southern African Network

against Trafficking in Children chairman Abdul Carimo Issa.

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