Don’t get trafficked!

Today’s ignorant people think human trafficking is new like Facebook. But the only thing new about human trafficking is the distances and the transactions involved

“…there is nothing new under the sun.” The Book of Ecclesiastes 1:9 has been screaming this forever, but we are no wiser.

I am told some of the people who were known to be in sophisticated Johannesburg digging gold when we were growing up in 1980s were actually working on farms somewhere in South Africa. Matters worse, some were not even picking cool stuff like tomatoes and oranges. They were doing the exact same thing that they had fled back home – herding cattle! These “fake” Johannesburgers were actually not to blame for the falsehoods regarding their whereabouts. It was all thanks to village gossip. From false reports of someone’s death to someone bearing a child with a wrong partner, village stories are endless. So it was with the fake Johannesburger that the overeager relatives would tell the whole village that he went to the mines. Unfortunately with Johannesburg, certain specific evidence was needed to validate the relative’s story.

The miner had to look like he was from Jo’burg when he returned after more than a decade. The Afro hairstyle was top of the list, followed by the shiny long-sleeved shirt and the analogue wrist watch. If the Johannesburger happened to arrive during the day, “the walk” would take top spot. You see, the Johannesburger didn’t walk into the village. He waltzed his way along the dusty footpath. This walk was called the drop or “to drop” because the slicker literally bumped along the road. The walk couldn’t be faked because it was a full package with the attire.

But even with the silky looks, your Jozi look meant nothing without the lingo. This was the weapon real ma-Jozi used to relegate pretenders to the farms where they belong. Any nincompoop, no matter how shiny his shoes, had to possess a certain vocabulary that was not available in the village. “Tsotsitaal” was only available in Johannesburg, or so the villagers believed. I’m sure lack of this lingo is what discouraged most of the village deserters from returning home.

The village can be very unforgiving in its pettiness. Who wants to endure the wrath of village loafers during khadi drinking sessions? These types never left the village but always revelled in embarrassing those who fled their fathers’ cows to herd someone else’s. On occasion, these would provoke the tsotsi into stabbing someone with a sharp object.

Some eventually mastered the courage to return home, albeit beat up and old and without anything to show for their prolonged absence. The reasons for returning home after decades were never quite noble. One of the things that Africans pay attention to is death and its prospect. In the village, it is considered motivation to ask someone where they are going to spend their last night before their burial when they die. Those who eventually returned did not do so voluntarily. They actually got kicked out when they reached unproductive ages and became a burden to the “family.” So the only place they could have a decent burial was their place of birth. These prodigal returnees often complicated things, although by Tswana diplomatic standards, such were easy meat for the elders.

It’s easy to vilify those who missed the Egoli dream because a lot of people are unaware that some of these brave warriors often ended up in unintended destinations. Today’s ignorant people think human trafficking is new like Facebook. But the only thing new about human trafficking is the distances and the transactions involved. If you come to think of it, some of these dreamers were teens barely out of primary school, if they ever attended.

The only way of getting to Johannesburg back then was by hitching rides from shop owners in their area before boarding the train somewhere, probably Palapye for the northerners. Unfortunately the poor kids also didn’t know Palapye and were at the mercy of their next driver.  And because human deceit is also as old as the scrolls that informed the Bible, some of the drivers were prowling around for unwilling servants. Coming across young boys without a clue of where they were, outside their familiar 100kms radius, was just what they needed. Most truckers also owned guns, so even if the unwilling herd boy was of mature age, there was little chance of escape. In any case, how do you escape without a clue of where you are? I suspect some of the reputed ritual murderers back then were just human traffickers of free farm labour.

Unfortunately, some children grew up without their fathers because of this undocumented trafficking. Some parents and women took a sore heart to the grave because their beloved son or husband was diverted by a thug. Some did go to Johannesburg and never wanted to see the village again. But human trafficking is as old as the river and as evil as it was back then. So whatever your dream, please don’t get trafficked!