Pretoria – Six life sentences and an additional 129 years imprisonment was meted out to a Nigerian national for human trafficking and related charges after he kept three young girls hostage to work as sex slaves.
Judge Natvarlil Ranchod, sitting in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, on Wednesday cited experts as saying that human trafficking is increasing worldwide. It not only caused trauma to the victims, but also to communities.
Criminals view it as a thriving business as sex slaves – often young girls – can be used over and over to generate money for their brothel masters.
But the judge made it clear that the court viewed human trafficking in an extremely serious light and it will be met with the harshest sentences possible.
The court heard evidence behind closed doors for months from, among others, three young victims around the age of 13 and 14, who were lured from the streets by recruits – other young girls – used by brothel master Ediozi Odi.
These girls were mostly vulnerable and came from poor families. They were lured to a house in Springs with promises of a better life. None of these victims had any idea they were entering Odi’s brothel – a house which masqueraded as a shop and a barber.
Once inside the house of horrors, these girls were immediately forced to smoke a drug called “rocks”. This was manufactured and sold by Odi and is believed to be highly addictive.
An expert told the court that once these girls were exposed to this drug, they were immediately hooked. He said they would do anything to get their hands on the drug.
The girls told the court how they were taught to smoke the drug by one of Odi’s co-accused, Nomsa Hlalele.
Once high on the drugs, Odi himself raped these girls “to teach them the tools of the trade” as an initiation into the sex trade.
The victims were locked up in the house for the duration of their stay, while Odi send his workers to prowl the streets for prospective clients. They were also locked up in a dungeon under the floor of the house whenever the police raided the house.
A 14-year-old teenager was only rescued after a year, while two other victims were able to escape after a week, when the police raided the house following a tip-off that the brothel master was going to move them to another premises.
The girls were paid for their prostitution by means of drugs and they got hardly any food. The brothel master took all their proceeds.
The court also heard evidence that some police officials were bribed to turn a blind eye as to what was happening in the brothel. Judge Ranchod said that on the other hand, these girls were saved by other SAPS officials who took their work seriously.
Odi, who was convicted on 24 of the 29 charges against him, sat emotionless as Judge Ranchod told him “You were the kingpin.” The judge also commented that Odi was aggressive at times in court and he even threatened his co-accused.
One of the female co-accused who had been acquitted at a stage leaped from the dock where she sat next to Odi and ran to her lawyer as Odi was threatening her.
The judge referred to pictures handed to court of the dungeon where these girls were often kept, as well as the filthy and unhygienic brothel that was littered with condoms.
Judge Ranchod also referred to the fact that Odi used his co-accused Hlalele and Luke Botha as drug runners. They often had to fetch drugs from other suppliers as well as ingredients to manufacture his own drugs.
The two drug runners each received a suspended sentence for the possession of drugs, while Odi received three life-sentenced on three charges of human trafficking and three more life sentences for each charge of rape.
His bid to appeal against his convictions and sentences were also turned down.
The victims have meanwhile been reunited with their parents and Hlalele, who had a baby a few weeks ago, is drug-free.