Repository logo

The politics of human trafficking in South Africa : a case study of the KwaZulu-Natal intersectoral task team and South African counter-trafficking governance.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Human trafficking is a complex phenomenon which obviates simple solutions. Although this is acknowledged in the literature and amongst anti-trafficking practitioners and policymakers, the existence of a dominant discourse at both the international and domestic level focuses on human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and prostitution to the detriment of other forms of trafficking in practice. Human trafficking and counter-trafficking in South Africa remain under-studied from all perspectives. In-depth knowledge and understanding of the phenomenon, as well as the efficacy and impact of responses, are required to formulate effective policies and strategies. Understanding the actors and complex governance structures involved in counter-trafficking, their interactions and their political agendas, and how this translates in practice in the South African context represents a gap in research on preventing and combating human trafficking in South Africa. This study makes a meaningful contribution to this body of research by analysing the actors involved in preventing and combating human trafficking and counter-trafficking governance in South Africa and the impact that politics (in the form of discourses and agendas) has on human trafficking approaches and responses. In this dissertation, I provide a better understanding of the politics of human trafficking in South Africa by deconstructing the international and South African human trafficking discourses and underlying agendas of state and non-state actors involved in counter-trafficking and assess the impact this has on counter-trafficking responses in practice. I examine the international and South African human trafficking legal and policy frameworks. I analyse and assess human trafficking governance and the way in which human trafficking is being combatted in South Africa from a complexity perspective, using the KwaZulu-Natal intersectoral task team as a case study, and provide insight into the role played by counter-trafficking networks in South Africa. I contend that dominant discourses and competing political agendas influence the trajectory of legislative and policy formulation and implementation, at both the international and domestic level, and ultimately counter-trafficking responses. In the South African context, the domestic discourse closely reflects the dominant international discourse. I claim that while the recently adopted comprehensive human trafficking legislation is expansive and victim-centred, like much other progressive legislation and policy in South Africa, implementation may prove problematic. I highlight a number of contentious issues surrounding the adopted legislation and examine the South African response to preventing and combating human trafficking in the form of its Tsireledzani programme and the national task team. I analyse and assess the efficacy of counter-trafficking governance in South Africa through the lens of the KwaZulu-Natal intersectoral task team. I argue that the strategic objectives of the task team, in the form of its 4P model based on prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships, have been implemented relatively successfully. However, a number of constraints and challenges are observed, and recommendations are made for augmenting the impact and efficacy of counter-trafficking responses in KwaZulu-Natal. Cooperation and coordination are required for an integrated approach to counter-trafficking and effectively managing counter-trafficking governance in South Africa. I claim that counter-trafficking networks, formed primarily by civil society organisations, play an important role in counter-trafficking in the South African context. Linking networks through formalised cooperation and coordination, and leveraging their resources through knowledge management, information sharing and positive competition, are vital components for an effective, holistic response to human trafficking in South Africa. I argue that the disparate approaches to human trafficking have a marked effect on outcomes of counter-trafficking responses and have resulted in unintended consequences. This has the implication that although South Africa advocates a holistic approach to addressing human trafficking, the reality is a more fragmented approach which leads to a disproportionate amount of resources and effort being allocated to combating, preventing and assisting particular sub-populations of trafficking victims – namely women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. In addition, resources are spent keeping undocumented migrants and their traffickers out and male victims of trafficking, while officially acknowledged, tend to be overlooked in terms of victimology and assistance in practice.


Ph. D. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 2013.


Human trafficking--Prevention., Human trafficking--KwaZulu-Natal., Prostitution--KwaZulu-Natal., Pornography--KwaZulu-Natal., Theses--Political science.