Towards the unshackling of modern day slaves

[notice]A monthly column by Marcel van der Watt, lecturer in the Department of Police Practice at UNISA, former police detective, and current member of the Gauteng Rapid Response Task Team for Human Trafficking.[/notice]

The Freedom Exhibition at Freedom Park

Modern day slavery is a phenomenon that is increasingly being acknowledged as a reality in our midst. Often used interchangeably with the more palatable term ‘Human Trafficking’, the notion of modern day slavery in a free society such as South Africa is, for many, still synonymous with the swallowing of a bitter pill. The unease and multi-layered challenges associated with a response to this issue can be daunting.  However, in order for us to become a truly free and equal society, it is of utmost importance to confront modern day slavery not just by mere awareness or acknowledgement of its existence. A deeper level of cognisance is required where issues such as poverty, unemployment, moral decay and a lack of education and leadership are understood to be a well-oiled and interconnected system working tirelessly against efforts to liberate people from all forms of oppression. Modern day slavery is an output of this system.

'Road to Freedom' by  Elmarie Smit, one of the works at the Freedom Exhibition.
‘Road to Freedom’ by Elmarie Smit, one of the works at the Freedom Exhibition.

Combating human trafficking and modern day slavery requires a host of arrows in the response quiver; one such arrow is the upcoming Freedom Exhibition. The Freedom Exhibition will take place at Freedom Park in Pretoria from 5 to 11 October 2013 and includes the use of art as a tool to raise awareness and articulate the multi-layered complexities associated with human trafficking and modern day slavery.

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The curator of the Freedom Exhibition, Marisa de Lange, believes in networking, taking hands and joining forces. Successful Freedom Exhibitions took place in Potchefstroom during the Aardklop National Arts Festival in 2012 and more recently in Cape Town (2013). Civil society, teachers, government officials and multidisciplinary role players in the field of counter-human trafficking are but some of those expected to attend this event which also coincides with human trafficking awareness week.

This historic event kicks off with the ‘Purple Awareness’ morning on Saturday 5 October as a precursor to the opening event and includes guest speakers, a light meal and an opportunity to learn more about how to become involved at grassroots level. On Sunday 6 October an opening gala event will feature keynote speakers and some of the artists whose talents have made the Freedom Exhibition possible. The Freedom Exhibition will feature morning and afternoon workshops which cover, amongst others, an overview of human trafficking, red-flags and indicators of human trafficking in our communities and the role of the media in responding to human trafficking. Visitors are welcome to explore and appreciate the works of art daily between 09:00 and 16:00.

The iconic Freedom Park is an invaluable partner in bringing this event to fruition and will serve as the platform for the exhibition and its activities. The CEO of Freedom Park, Fana Jiyane underscored Freedom Park’s “dedication to the celebration of our humanity and freedom. Issues of human trafficking and slavery are inimical to any conception of freedom and what it means to be human. The Freedom Exhibition resonates with our storyline, which calls for an end to all forms of oppression and the denial of human rights and we are excited to be part of it”.

Saartjie Baartman
In response to  Jiyane and  De Lange’s passion for issues of social justice and freedom, I reflected on the story of Saartjie Baartman, probably one of the most well-known South African human trafficking victims who was exhibited and exploited by her captor almost 200 years ago. Only six years after leaving Cape Town, Saartjie died alone in France without any hope of being reunited with her loved ones. I recalled my first encounter with the reality of modern day slavery in 2002 as a police official when the lack of awareness, absence of legislation and the conflation of human trafficking with prostitution paved the way for a perceivably hopeless situation. Today I feel rejuvenated to be part of this transition characterised by a new comprehensive piece of human trafficking legislation, an exponential increase in awareness and buy-in from civil society, government and corporates.

Lin Yutong, a Chinese writer argued that “hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence”. The Freedom Exhibition is a story of hope and dedication to the crafting of a highway where once a footpath was barely visible.

For more information on the Freedom Exhibition please visit
For more information on Freedom Park please visit

South African Government Information. 2007. Opening address by Dr EG Pahad, Minister in the The Presidency at the Global Initiative to Counter Human Trafficking – International Forum. 3 October. Cape Town. From: (accessed 12 March 2013).

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