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S.African in court for trafficking 16 Zimbabwean children

A South African man appeared in court on Wednesday after police discovered 16 Zimbabwean children in the back of his truck near the Botswana border.

Simon Mhlanga, 41, is thought to have entered Zimbabwe on December 9 and returned to South Africa via Botswana, according to Sapa news agency.

The man apparently had the children, aged between four and 16, crawl across the border to evade authorities, then loaded them into the truck, the agency quoted police spokeswoman Karen Tredoux as saying.

He was discovered in Mahikeng in North West province on December 15 shortly after entering the country. Two girls and a boy ran away from police. The remaining eight girls and five boys are being kept in a shelter.

It is unclear why the man tried to smuggle the children into the country. Zimbabweans have streamed to the continental powerhouse South Africa to escape skyrocketing unemployment and political violence under the government of President Robert Mugabe.

No government data exists on the number of Zimbabweans in South Africa, but aid organisations estimate the number could be as high as 1.5 million.

Mhlanga will appear in Mmabatho magistrates court again in January to apply for bail.