Dineo Tlale was abducted, forced into prostitution, escaped & inspired young artists to use their craft to raise awareness for what is modern day slavery – human trafficking, prostitution and sex exploitation.
A walk from varsity to res last September, changed her life, her dreams and hopes. A drama student on the verge of completing her degree, Dineo Tlale could already picture herself on the big stage – writing scripts, directing, performing, singing – it was a stone’s throw away. She had it. She dreamt of walking up a stage to accept a Naledi award and many other prestigious theatre awards. She was looking forward to finally completing her studies and releasing her mother from the financial burden of having to pay for her education and all that came with it.
And then, within seconds she was whisked away and thrown into a car. She screamed, kicked but the two men were too strong and too swift, they were professionals at their sordid craft. ‘I thought I was dreaming or in a play, but it was real” she tells UnCensored. “The men told me to shut up as I would be hurt if I continued screaming and bringing attention to their car as they whizzed through Joburg’s busy streets”. With every second of the realisation that she was being kidnapped, she started crying and every sound she made was met with a slap on the face. Eventually, she made no sound at all but the flood of tears kept flowing down her face. The men blindfolded her so she could not see where they were going but as she puts it, perhaps to also save themselves from the reality of what they were doing. “I still believed that despite what they were doing, they remained human beings who have hearts, a conscience, sisters, mothers and that my tears touched a nerve. I was naive”.
Her voice cracks and quivers and the flood of tears come rolling down her face as she explains how important tears kept her soul alive and propelled her to move forward every day.
“I refused to be numbed by the pain of the numerous rapes, beatings, humiliation, indignity of the year of being a sex slave. I cried all the time when these men raped me – I wanted to show them that I do not consent to their act even if they bought my body. It was a way of survival. I wanted to keep the strength for the day I would get the opportunity to escape. I knew that day would come. Pain is burdensome. It keeps you down. With tears I shed the pain little-by-little, till to date. I love the spontaneity of tears too, they don’t wait to be invited. They just do their thing.”
The tears keep flowing as she relives the first day of entering a flat in an unfamiliar place and town. Mattresses strewn all over the floor. Young bodies – young men and women – draped in screams of despair and hopelessness. Bottles. Used needles. She began to cry and everybody in the room laughed: “Don’t worry, you will be strong”. And with that, everybody sat up and a lively discussion began on their first day at the flat. She would come to learn over the year that followed that this was a welcoming ceremony at the flat.
First she was given alcohol, then clothes, then drugs and then men. She would cry throughout the sex and her buyers would beat her for crying.
“The men took the tears personally, very personally. Some would think I so enjoyed it that I cried. Others thought I was mocking them, insulting them for their ‘lack of performance’. Like a scratched record, this pattern would be my life for the next year. I cried so much that I was even nicknamed “uMakhala” -the crying one – by the flatmates or “isfebe esikhalayo” – the crying whore – by the punters”.
One day – a few months ago – a “client” paid her extra money. And with bouts of laughter, she explains that her tears may have touched his heart. When she left his bed, she ran and ran and never looked back.
“The joy of freedom quickly disappeared when a few days after my escape, Police Minister Bheki Cele said human trafficking does not exist. My body and my soul still bear the scars of human trafficking and to hear someone in that position say human trafficking does not exist, with absolutely no sympathy and no commitment to doing anything about it, felt like I was back in that flat with a man walking in to pick me as his product of sexual gratification.”
Today Tlale is staying with close friends – in pain, ashamed of who she is but most importantly, in fear of being tracked by her abductors. It is for this reason that we are not using her real name in this article.
She cries a lot – with the hope that the tears wash away the pain, so as to propel her forward to a time when she can regain the strength to dream again and remember less of the life of the last year.
Defending Dignity NPC – a non profit company
Tlale’s story and those of the millions of young women and men abducted and trapped into modern day slavery of human trafficking, prostitution and sex exploitation has inspired a group of young artists to start a non-profit company Defending Dignity. All of them are graduates from the drama, film and fine arts departments of Wits University, University of Cape Town, and AFDA.
They intend using their craft in the various genres of the arts to raise awareness for human trafficking, prostitution and sexual exploitation. Their projects include a theatre play – Ematrasini, school educational programmes on human rights, dignity and tips on protecting oneself from human trafficking.
Take Action and help Defending Dignity raise awareness for human trafficking, prostitution and all forms of sex exploitation.
To Donate: email:email@example.com Twitter @DignityNpc
The vast majority of detected trafficking victims are women and girls, and three out of four are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.