A visibly traumatised South African woman rescued from a human trafficking syndicate that lured her to Asia with the promise of lucrative modelling contracts landed safely at OR Tambo International Airport late on Sunday.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, who was at the airport to welcome Princess Mahlangu, vowed that more arrests would be made in addition to the Zimbabwean national said to be part of the syndicate.
Mbalula said the 24-year-old woman was “traumatised”.
“There has been an arrest of a Zimbabwean in Malaysia and more arrests will be made,” Mbalula said.
He added that there was also “a Nigerian (national) involved” in the trafficking, whom he referred to as “the co-ordinator”.
The head of the Hawks, General Yolisa Matakata, also confirmed the arrest and said they were still working with the Malaysian authorities to apprehend more suspects preying on vulnerable young women.
The joint operation between the police, Hawks, Interpol and Malaysian authorities, rescued 14 women from 14 different countries.
Mbalula and Matakata said although they did not have the statistics of South African traffic victims readily available, the country was tightening its borders and actively pursing the syndicates to combat the scourge.
Mbalula said: “A lot of women come from outside South Africa and are trafficked here for various reasons.
“We have closed down brothels, even in Sandton, where we have found (trafficked women). They come here under the pretext of greener pastures,” Mbalula added.
Mahlangu’s relieved father was also at the airport to welcome his daughter, but her mother stayed home as she was “not feeling well”, Mbalula said.
The Bloemfontein woman had left South Africa for Malaysia after she was lured with promises of mega prizes in beauty pageants, modelling and a great life.
Other victims rescued from the syndicate came from countries such as Barbados, the US, the Philippines and Thailand.
Mahlangu’s close friend, who asked to remain anonymous, detailed the harrowing conversations he had with the victim after she realised that she had been taken to Malaysia under false pretences.
The friend told The Star he became worried when Mahlangu sent him a message saying she was worried that she was being trafficked.
“She (South African woman) sent me a WhatsApp message on Monday night, saying: 'I’m in trouble, can you check with the travel agency if they could move my return ticket to an earlier date'?
“I asked her what signs (of trafficking) she had picked up. She said she would talk to me when it was safe.
"I asked her to send me her (travel) itinerary,” the friend said.
The man said he told her to immediately contact the South African Embassy in Malaysia.
“Before she left, we spoke about the importance of knowing the South African embassies in the countries one is travelling to. Before she boarded the plane, she asked me to send her the embassy's numbers.”
The friend added: “She later sent me a message that ‘this guy says we must go to a nightclub and I became suspicious, because he was acting strangely'.”
According to Mbalula, swift action by the SAPS, the Hawks and Interpol saved the woman from the clutches of the traffickers.
Mbalula said the SAPS had on Wednesday received information that a South African woman was the victim of human trafficking in Malaysia.
The minister said he immediately alerted the SAPS, Interpol and the Hawks and asked them to investigate.
"Indeed, they found that a suspected case of international human trafficking was in progress in Malaysia, where at least 14 females from 14 countries had been conned into a fake internet model competition,” Mbalula told The Star on Saturday.
The close friend of the South African woman said she was introduced to the man she met in Malaysia by a woman in Bloemfontein, who posed as director of a modelling agency or a related business.
“My friend normally enters beauty pageants and she was introduced to the guy by this woman who said she was a director. It was the first time that she had met the man in Malaysia,” the friend said.
Mahlangu’s friend said: It’s been a week of hell. I’m so relieved my friend will be back soon,”he added.