A charge of intimidation laid at Cape Town’s Muizenberg Police Station this week has apparently exposed a system of human trafficking that has smuggled skilled personnel into South Africa and then exploited them.
The charge was laid by Pakistani national Muhammad Nawaz, who owns a small electronics repair shop in Muizenberg.
The senior police officer who confirmed that Nawaz, a legal resident in the country since 2013, had laid the charge, was unaware that the IT specialist had first arrived in 2008 after crossing the border from Mozambique on foot.
However, he was aware of the trafficking problem, not only of technical specialists, but “also of women with specialist skills”.
According to Nawaz, he was “recruited” to come to South Africa by a local businessman who promised an escape from the instability and violence of Pakistan. Political asylum would be arranged in South Africa.
Nawaz, heavily bearded and soft-spoken, is a devout Muslim, is married to a South African and willingly told his story “so that others may also speak out against what happens to us”.
He was one of 19 people of different nationalities, most of whom were Somalis, who arrived from Mozambique in 2008.
After crossing the border, Nawaz was put to work in one of his patron’s shops and, in due course, presented with asylum papers. He says he had nothing to do with the application and was merely given the papers by his employer.
After a year of working without pay, he was put in charge of a suburban shop – he was to pay the rent and overheads, and contribute a monthly “commission” to his recruiter in what was supposed to be his own business.
It is, a senior police officer admitted, a form of protection racket, often with the victims paying up because they fear physical and legal retribution. Some simply flee and another luckless victim fills their place.
“For me, it became too much. After the commission, I had almost nothing left for myself,” Nawaz said.
After five years of this, he fled and managed to get back to Pakistan. Having raised money from a family inheritance, he returned legally to South Africa and now owns his present business.
But his past caught up with him last week when four men, Punjabi speaking and therefore probably from Pakistan, told him he owed his former employer R96 000 and that this should be paid within 10 days.
“I told them that I did not owe money to anyone and that I would swear on the holy Quran that this was so,” he said.
He was then invited to join the men to take such an oath.
“I refused to go to any place they wanted. I said I would go to the mosque and show them that what I said was true.”
The four duly turned up at the mosque, but only to inform Nawaz that they were interested in the money, not any oath.
“They said I could die. And if I thought I could run away, they could find me anywhere I went,” he said. So he went to the local police station, where several officers are customers of his, and laid the charge.
However, he does not know the men who threatened him or where they live. And he admits that, apart from them telling him who they were working for, there is no other evidence against the recruiter for whom they said they were claiming the money.
“There are many who are [treated] like this,” Nawaz said, “and they should speak out.”
He is not afraid, he says.
“Everything is in the hands of Allah.”