Once upon a time, for 34-year-old Stephen Tshukudu, human trafficking was a distant tale, something that only happened in the movies.
Today, however, he is not so sure.
Assigned on a dream work trip to Mexico in August 2019 by his employer Kromberg and Schubert, Tshukudu never left the airport.
He was only in the North American country for two days.
It was enough to leave him with broken bones, horrific memories and eventually paralyzed from the waist down after a torturous, prolonged beating from Mexican security officers.
Tshukudu, who is still employed by Kromberg as a Production Operator, insists his troubles stemmed from a fake Visa given to him by his bosses.
“When I speak to you about this, I picture myself in that room. The horror I went through,” he says, communicating with The Voice from his hospital bed in Princess Marina.
Tshukudu explains he was appointed to travel to Mexico to conduct training at Kromberg and Schubert’s newly opened plant in San Francisco Del Rincon, a city in the west of the country.
“It was my first time to travel such long distances. I was scheduled to leave on August 26  but I couldn’t leave then as flights were grounded in South Africa. I only left the following day to OR Tambo to connect my flight.”
It was as he prepared to board his flight from South Africa, which was due to travel via Brazil, that concerns over his traveling documents first arose.
“The airport personnel told me my Visa was not the correct one. I was shocked because everything was processed by the company but I obliged and called our office in Gaborone and told them my problem. They liaised with the South African office to facilitate for my travel. There were a lot of negotiations. I was not part of it so I don’t know the agreement but they finally let me board the plane.”
It was to prove a costly mistake.
“I was treated like a criminal throughout my travel. I could not understand why because my travel was facilitated by the company. I had letters from the company, the Visa that I thought was legit and insurance papers.”
Upon landing in Brazil, Tshukudu once again found himself under suspicion.
He was briefly detained by airport officials but after a few calls he was again allowed to travel to his final destination, Mexico.
Growing increasingly nervous by this point, Tshukudu was right to be scared. However, not in his wildest nightmares could he have imagined the reception that lay in store.
“On the way we were given declaration forms and I filled them. When we arrived at the Mexico airport I gave the official the forms and my passport. To my surprise once again there was trouble, only this time a little more serious.
“After they took my declaration form and my passport, all of a sudden a gang of officers came at me with guns and dogs. I was under arrest. I still did not understand what was going on. They ordered me to go to their offices and I obliged – confused.”
According to Tshukudu, it was then that his torture started.
“They took me from the cells at the airport to another room. They asked me to take off all my clothes. I heard one of the men say, ‘You Africans think you are better!’ He was the only one of the lot who could speak English, the rest of them did not speak English at all.
“They suffocated me. Hit me with metal rods. At one point they used something that looked like an Aux cable and inserted it into my anus and in my mouth. I could not feel my legs or my body!”
Convinced he would die, his life was probably saved by an intervening senior officer.
“I had given them phone numbers to call to corroborate my story but they chose not to. It was only when another senior came in when by chance they found out that I may have been a victim of a human trafficking syndicate,” he narrates.
Tshukudu’s travel back to Botswana was hastily arranged. He claims he can’t remember much detail as he was in too much pain.
His efforts to uncover what could have happened from his employer fell on deaf ears. Instead, he says he was ordered not to tell anyone about his ordeal, including his family.
Indeed, his family only found out after Tshukudu attempted suicide towards the end of last year.
His health has never recovered, his legs no longer work and he relies on crutches to move around.
“Every time I go to the toilet, blood comes out of my anus. I am always bleeding from down there,” he reveals grimly, adding his bosses’ silence on the matter is the reason he suspects they may have been trying to traffic him.
Meanwhile, The Voice also talked to the BOTEMAPAWU Union Secretary, General Ketshepile Russia who confirmed the union has since engaged the employer on the matter with possible legal action to follow suit.
The Voice tried to get a comment from Kromberg but was unsuccessful. The Human Resource Manager, Pako Tsimanyana refused to talk to us.