OPINION | We cannot keep glorifying silence in the fight against human trafficking
In September, Mzansi was rocked by several reports of attempted kidnappings and claims about human trafficking. As celebs and average South Africans voiced their outrage and debated over who was to blame, others looked for solutions to the scourge.
As a soon-to-be father, it was a time of anxiety and concern, and a time to reflect.
I am just weeks away from becoming a father for the first time, but often in the dead of night, and increasingly during the waking hours, I fear for my child's life.
The scourge of human trafficking has been cast into the spotlight over the past few weeks, including when a video of an alleged attempted kidnapping of a young girl in Florida, Roodepoort, went viral.
The video, along with the ongoing trial over the kidnapping of a six-year-old in Vanderbijlpark a year ago and the countless missing adult and children posters that have so often flooded my social media timelines, have left me dejected and fearful.
Even more so when I read reports, including Paul O Bello and Adewale A Olutola's recent published paper The Conundrum of Human Trafficking in Africa, which claims SA is both the “rallying point” and “hub” of human trafficking in southern Africa.
“Unlike the West African scenario where the flow is multidimensional — one country could serve as the source, while another serves as the transit and destination point — trafficking geography in southern Africa is relatively complicated. It involves complex trafficking flows from diverse countries of origin from Africa and the rest of the world,” the paper reads.
Of course there is outrage, but that has become a cheap commodity in our world, where empty promises are common and leaders often talk a lot and do nothing.
Feeling close to helpless, I, like many other South Africans, have tried to do things that are in my power. I download security apps on my phone, talk to family members about being vigilant and make a conscious effort to always look for potential threats around every corner.
It is no way to live, but if it keeps those I love from becoming one of the increasing number of adults and children who are abducted, it will be worth it.
It was for this reason that a recent tweet by musician Lvovo Derrango caught my eye. In it, the star said the time for talk was over and called for South Africans to take action.
“If I propose a meeting to share ideas on how we can eradicate human trafficking as the public, would you show up? Phumani ku Gov manje because y'all gonna keep begging until y'all lose all your brothers and sisters!
“Don't ever depend on anybody. Team up, unite and plan. Enough talking!” he wrote, calling on all those with skills and resources to unite behind the cause.
Former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba threw his weight behind the proposal, and DJ Sbu has offered to provide drinks at the meeting.
It is great to see South Africans unite behind such a cause, but the government needs to come to the party.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation, he spoke about the scourge of gender-based violence (GBV). He said government had identified 30 hotspots around the country where this problem is most rife.
“As we move to the next alert level, we are increasing and improving support services for survivors of gender-based violence, particularly in the identified hotspots," he said.
Such moves must be applauded, and monitored to make sure it is not all talk and no action. Talk must not be vague and action must also focus on prevention.
Alarmingly, there was radio silence on the matter of human trafficking, apart from a vague "let us spare no effort to eradicate the problem of violence against women and children".
Why would the president not address one of the most pressing social issues in the country today?
The fear is that, like GBV, the easing of the Covid-19 lockdown will see a rise in cases of abuse, kidnapping and abduction.
Radio personality Lerato Kganyago wrote what many were fearing when she tweeted: “As the storm passes, grateful that we are moving to level 1. But in my heart, I also worry that the easing will also make more women and children vulnerable to human trafficking.”
The truth is that we cannot lock away our women and children for safekeeping, as if they are pieces of jewellery. Instead, it is on all of us to take responsibility and educate each other.
The fight against GBV is in many ways the fight against human trafficking; it requires vigilance and everyone to unite.
It requires men to realise there is something fundamentally wrong with the ideas of patriarchy we have been fed by society since birth. We are not better than women, and are not entitled to do with them as we wish.
It requires women to stop crucifying other women for speaking out or wanting to help. The enemy is known, and it is not each other.
It requires children to take seriously the lessons on how to treat each other properly and speak out when they sense something is wrong.
It is our business when someone is s abused, just like when someone goes missing. We can't put our heads in the sand and pretend someone in our community is not hurting because it doesn't directly affect us.
Likewise, as we stand up and speak, we need neighbours and friends to stop trying to silence us.
The impimpi culture, where you are treated worse than a criminal if you speak out when you see abuse, is not ubuntu. It is not “what good neighbours do” and it is not minding your own business - it is reckless, hypocritical, wildly irresponsible and criminal.
We cannot keep glorifying silence because the same people who crucify us for being “snitches” will often be the first to ask for help when their loved one becomes a statistic.
Ramaphosa was right when he said it is in now in our hands, but sadly it rings true not only in the fight against Covid-19.