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This Is Why South African Celebrities Are Tweeting About #EndHumanTrafficking


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Human trafficking is a violation of human rights and takes advantage of people in vulnerable situations. Women and children are unfairly targeted, as well as those who are living in poverty. The UN’s Global Goal 1 calls for an end to extreme poverty and Global Goal 5 calls for the protection of women and children. Join the movement and help protect those who are vulnerable by taking action here

On Wednesday morning the hashtag #EndHumanTraffickingInSA took over Twitter in South Africa and remained the top trending topic for most of the day. 

Celebrities such as rappers AKA, Boity, and Cassper Nyovest, as well as actors Thando Thabethe and Lasizwe, took to Twitter to demand action from the government against human trafficking in South Africa. 

This came after a widely spread social media status, the origins of which are unclear, that detailed how a girl in Rustenburg was allegedly nearly kidnapped while walking home from school on Monday afternoon. According to the post, the girl managed to escape from the perpetrators by jumping out of a moving car.

The hashtag, however, is not new. Earlier in September it began to trend on Twitter after a video that showed a man allegedly trying to kidnap a young girl at a restaurant in broad daylight began circulating on social media. Gauteng Province police spokesperson Lt Kay Makhubela confirmed that the incident did occur and the perpetrator was taken to court. It was later revealed that he continues to deal with serious psychiatric and substance abuse issues. 

Although the hashtag took off on social media, there remains little data to support claims of a sudden increase in human trafficking in South Africa. 

Tershia de Klerk, chief operations manager at Stop Trafficking of People (STOP), an organisation that focuses on preventative awareness of human trafficking in South Africa, tells Global Citizen that although the hashtag raises awareness, it can cause fear and panic in people. 

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“Social media posts are often not accurate and we must be careful not to believe and, especially, share everything we see on social media,” she said. 

She continued to highlight that if an experience shared on social media is truly alarming, then it should be reported for investigation. 

“If a post or a story is truly concerning, then please contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline or STOP to investigate or to confirm whether the post has been investigated and whether it has been confirmed to be true,” she explained.

These aforementioned incidents may have pushed the hashtag #EndHumanTrafficking to the top of South Africa’s trending list, but there are many reasons why human trafficking continues to be a topic of conversation on social media. 

Demanding government action

In September, Police Minister Bheki Cele briefed the media on the state of gender-based violence and human trafficking in South Africa. 

Of the latter, the minister said that kidnapping and human trafficking were serious issues that needed further investigation, however he proceeded with a warning about the spread of misinformation. 

“There is a lot of fake news because it is known people are scared and sensitive about the matter,” he said. 

He added that police had investigated kidnapping hotspots as tipped off by the public and had found that the places that were investigated posed no threat. 

However his response to the issue was not enough for some Twitter users. 

Actress Rami Chuene made local headlines soon after the briefing as she responded in a now-deleted tweet to her over 600,000 followers, that the minister and his deputy have been out of touch with reality and do not know what is happening on the ground. 

“The lack of action on GBV issues, human trafficking, and so on portray him as one who has lost touch with the protection of the country and its citizens,” she wrote.

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Although her tweets elicited a responses from followers, the South African Police Service (SAPS) has continued reiterate Minister Cele’s words by asking the public to be wary of false human trafficking stories that have wasted the police’s resources when they were investigated. 

De Klerk further emphasised that human trafficking is a serious reality in South Africa, but accurate information on the topic needed to take prevalence. 

“We do agree that it is not accurate to say that human trafficking has suddenly increased in the past few months,” she told Global Citizen. “However, what we do know is that the fight against human trafficking has increased, as well as social media posts around this topic.”

She also pointed out that although the number of reported cases has not drastically changed this year, the pandemic has created opportunities for human trafficking to persist. 

“The National Human Trafficking Hotline has not seen a spike in human trafficking cases and nor [have] our reliable contacts within SAPS,” she said. “However, there has been an increase in online job and travel scams. COVID-19 has increased people’s vulnerabilities and people are desperate for an income, and traffickers are taking advantage of this. Be wise. Ask questions.”

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Spreading misinformation

While SAPS urges citizens to remain vigilant and prioritise the safety of their children, they have also asked the public not to spread misinformed stories surrounding human trafficking. 

SAPS Gauteng spokeswoman Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said in a statement the continuous sharing and promoting of these reportedly untrue stories had continued even after the national police commissioner, Khehla Sithole, issued a public warning against such rumours.

She continued to detail several instances where police investigated incidences that were caught on camera or dispersed on social media highlighting human trafficking, that turned out to be a fabrication based on a completely different crime. 

Fake news accounts

An analysis in New Frame has shone a light on fake accounts that have been promoting misinformation and creating fake news stories surrounding human trafficking in South Africa. 

According to New Frame, these Twitter accounts point the finger at South African foreign nationals, and continue to churn out xenophobic messages on their platforms. 

“The posting of fake or unsubstantiated messages in whatever form is irresponsible and does nothing more than cause uncertainty and perhaps even paranoia among people. We are urging people to stop posting such messages as this is tantamount to committing a crime of defeating the ends of justice,” police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said on the topic of fake news. 

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SAPS provincial commissioner in Gauteng, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, also weighed in on the topic. 

"The anonymity that often surrounds the identity of the creators or sources of fake news, confirms that the intention can only be hostile, seeking to unsettle community-police relations that the SAPS is working so hard to build and restore," he said. 

STOP continues to push for preventative awareness of human trafficking and de Klerk urges South Africans to be vigilant and vocal if they witness anything suspicious. 

“Individuals can download safety apps, such as Namola and The Freedom App. They both have specific features and include a panic button,” she said. 

She also encourages citizens to contact STOP for more information on the subject. 

“Our talks and programmes are age appropriate,” she added. “They have been developed for pre-primary up to university age, as well as parents and corporates. Our main focus is preventative awareness and [to] provide you with tips and tools to keep yourself safe, as well as your family and community.” 

To get in touch with STOP you can visit their website, follow them on Instagram and Facebook, or call +27 81 720 7181.