Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said the bus drivers of around 42 cross-border vehicles which were ferrying more than 440 unaccompanied children from Zimbabwe into South Africa should have been arrested on the spot.
the publication reported on Sunday that commissioner of the Border Management Authority (BMA) Mike Masiapato confirmed that the law enforcement agency intercepted 443 children, under the age of eight, who were being brought to South Africa in what Pretoria authorities believed to be human trafficking.
Speaking to broadcaster Newzroom Afrika on Monday, Motsoaledi said unfortunately the bus drivers were left to go scot-free, after the children were removed from the buses and sent back to authorities in Zimbabwe.
“I must confess, it is just that our border guards are new, they might not have known because I believe they should have arrested those drivers. They should have been in custody now. They (BMA guards) said because the children produced passports, the drivers might have thought it is a legal operation, which I do not think is correct. Our border guards are still learning the laws … the laws at the borders or international laws are very complex, but they should have arrested them.”
The minister said the bus drivers arrived at South Africa’s borders at different times.
When questioned by law enforcement agencies, the bus drivers told the authorities that they had been assigned by different individuals to pick up the minor children at identified places in Zimbabwe and were paid to bring the children to their parents or relatives in different parts of South Africa.
The minister said the bus drivers’ stories were inadequate and they still have to account.
“It is a grossly inadequate story. I am sure they will still be found. They cannot just disappear into Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean authorities must know about them,” said Motsoaledi.
The 443 children were intercepted over the weekend in a sting operation by the BMA, the South African Police Service and the Department of Home Affairs at the busy Beitbridge border post on Saturday.
Motsoaledi said Zimbabwean authorities have received the children and are yet to give feedback on the circumstances which led to the children leaving their homes in Zimbabwe.