A high court judge in Pretoria found two Nigerian men guilty of human trafficking yesterday – the first judgment of its kind in the court’s history.
Judge Ronel Tolmay found Nigerian brothers Obioma Benjamin Abba, 32, and Chinedu Obasi, 38, who ran a brothel from a Sunnyside flat, guilty on two counts of human trafficking, but acquitted them on charges of money laundering and keeping a brothel.
Obasi was also found guilty of contravening the Immigration Act by marrying a South African woman to get citizenship, but never living with her.
Nolwazi Mkhonto, the South African woman who subleased the flat to the Nigerians, was acquitted on all charges, including one of facilitating human trafficking.
She said the state had not proved that she knew her flat was being used for that purpose.
Two former prostitutes testified that Abba and Obasi had plied them with drugs and held them captive in the flat, only letting them go out at night to work as prostitutes.
They had to hand over all their earnings and were assaulted if they did not toe the line.
Tolmay said although the women were already prostitutes and joined Obasi willingly, they were given housing, basics and drugs on condition they worked as prostitutes.
They were not allowed to leave the house when they wanted to and the brothers had ruthlessly exploited their extreme vulnerability caused by their drug addiction, personal problems and the fact that one of them was an illegal immigrant.
They had no money and no support network and the accused took all the money they earned selling themselves.
They also regarded it as their duty to have sex with Obasi as he was the boss.
The judge concluded that the men had exploited the women in a way that constituted slavery and sexual exploitation and that they had worked as slaves for their masters, who had no concern for their dignity, freedom of movement and security of person.
The two women, now in a safe house, urged others trapped in prostitution and drugs to testify against traffickers.
Both said they were done with drugs and prostitution.
Ilse de Lange / Citizen