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SOUTH AFRICA: Ethiopians held captive: Property owner shocked to find home turned into ‘prison’


Monday February 12, 2024

A Gauteng property owner was stunned to discover his family home of more than 80 years had been turned into a “prison” where 13 Ethiopians were held captive without food.

The captives, some as young as 14-years-old, escaped from the three-bedroom suburban house in Parkhurst, north of Johannesburg, by breaking the windows and doors on Tuesday. Some had their hands bound and had suffered injuries during the escape. They were rescued by a guard from a security company as they ran in different directions to look for help.

The property owner, who does not want to be named, said he had been renting the house to a tenant through an estate agent for the past seven months. He said police told him the tenant had allegedly used fake documents to secure the lease. The tenant has disappeared after last week’s incident.

Police are investigating a possible case of human trafficking or smuggling.

The property owner said he never imagined his house would be turned into a prison when Sowetan found him outside the house on Friday while he was having it repaired.

“They destroyed my place. I have to fix a lot of things like the doors and windows. We have been renting out this home for more than 10 years and I have never come across something like this. I have never had a problem, and this is the first time something like this has happened. My wife was born here and she’s 68,” he said.

The house on 11th Street has high walls and a solid big gate, making it impossible to see inside the yard.

The owner said the escapees went through the neighbour’s property and, in the process, damaged the electric fence.

“They broke through a window and must have run around the property looking for an exit and managed to find it at a corner wall between my property and the neighbour’s. They bent the electric fence wiring and ran down the road towards the river. The security company caught them before they could escape and rounded them up,” said the owner.

He said the captives looked malnourished and seemed to have been kept in his house for days.

Grant Moulder, a response team leader from 24/7 Security, said they were contacted by a resident about a break-in.

“When our team went there, they caught them. Initially we thought it was a break-in so police were called. When they arrived we were told to breach the place and go over the walls,” said Moulder.

He said they used a ladder to get over the walls.

“We found a broken window and a broken door so we thought the guys had broken in. We realised that they couldn’t speak English and they had to get a translator for them the next day,” said Moulder.

He said four people had escaped, but they found nine more people in the house.

“After discovering there were more people in the house, the Hawks were contacted. They all looked fine but there was one injured. He cut himself on a window,” said Moulder.

Hawks W/O Thatohatsi Mavimbela said among the 13 found, four were minors aged between 14 and 15 years.

“Seven have been taken to hospital for treatment of injuries sustained while attempting to run away from authorities, and the minors have been taken to a place of safety. An inquiry has been opened to establish whether this is a case of human trafficking or smuggling,” said Mavimbela.

The property owner said he contacted his tenant on the day of the incident and arranged to meet but the tenant did not honour the meeting and has since blocked the landlord’s cellphone number.

“Everything was fine when he was filling out the information for the estate agent. We were in regular contact with him [before the incident]. We did not notice anything wrong. Our last call to him was in December and nothing was out of the ordinary. I didn’t think all of this could happen,” said the owner.

A woman neighbour said: “You never imagined this type of thing would happen. They were malnourished and they were limping. It’s a terrible situation. They looked to be young, in their 20s.”

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