The Queenstown Regional Court in the Eastern Cape has handed down hefty sentences to five people for human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Xolelwa Garhishe, 24; Yolanda Klaas, 24; Nwabisa Kaziwa, 23; and Zintle Tom, 23, were each sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment for trafficking on Friday.
In addition, they were each slapped with 12 years' imprisonment for sexual exploitation of a child.
The fifth accused, Harun Mohammed, 38, was sentenced to life imprisonment for rape.
"During October 2016, Garhishe, Klaas, Kaziwa and Tom abducted a 12-year-old girl in Whittlesea and used her as a sex slave for approximately a month," police spokesperson Captain Anelisa Ngcakani said in a statement.
"During this period, Mohammed paid R100 to the four women who, in turn, handed over the 12-year-old girl to him in order for him to sexually exploit her," she added.
Garhishe, Klaas, Kaziwa, Tom and Mohammed were arrested in Whittlesea during November 2016, after the Trafficking in Persons wing of the Hawks’ Serious Organised Crime Investigation Unit received information from the SAPS Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Unit concerning the plight of the young girl.
The five remained in custody throughout their trial after they were all previously denied bail.
"They were found guilty by the Queenstown Regional Court on August 28, 2019.
"The sentences of Garhishe, Klaas, Kaziwa and Tom will not run concurrently, meaning that they will each serve 24 years' direct imprisonment," Ngcakani said.
In a separate matter in the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court on Thursday, the bail application of seven Chinese nationals arrested for alleged human trafficking and violation of labour laws was postponed.
The suspects – four men and three women – were arrested on November 12 during a joint operation by the Department of Labour's inspection and enforcement service, the police and Hawks following a tip-off.
A warrant officer testifying during the formal bail application told the court that the release of the accused "will pose a problem".
"The officer from the Hawks allege[s] that the accused have provided the court with false addresses of their residence, could not provide credible information on the leased property where they were arrested, have no properties in South Africa, and that she feared that they will interfere with witnesses," Gauteng chief inspector advocate Michael Msiza said in a statement on Friday.
The suspects, who are facing charges of human trafficking, debt bondage, kidnapping and pointing of a firearm, are accused of operating a factory allegedly involving the trafficking of illegal immigrants and subjecting them to forced labour.
The bail matter was postponed to January 21, 2020, and the accused will remain in custody.