Couple alleged to have arranged marriages for Bangladeshis
A “cash-for-citizenship” scheme, in which Port Elizabeth women accept as little as R200 to be married off to Bangladeshi men, has netted two suspects in the city who are thought to be the masterminds behind the scam.
Although similar schemes exist countrywide, the Port Elizabeth operation – which has been running for at least two years – came to light after immigration officials were tipped off.
Most of the women in the city who accept the offers do so in the hope of a better life.
But many of the arranged marriages end in a divorce once the foreign national acquires a relative’s permit or citizenship.
The suspected recruiters for Port Elizabeth’s “brides-for-cash” operation – Nomabandla Mangezi, 35, and her Bangladeshi husband, Abu Bokar, 43 – appeared in the magistrate’s court yesterday where their case was postponed to next week.
The pair, of North End, allegedly recruited young women from New Brighton, Kwazakhele and Zwide and paid them between R200 and R300 each to marry a Bangladeshi national.
Other people were unaware that they were married.
Department of Home Affairs Eastern Cape manager Gcinile Mabulu confirmed that immigration officers had acted after four women came forward late last year claiming they had discovered they were married to strangers.
Police spokeswoman Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg confirmed the arrest on Friday of Mangezi and Bokar.
She said immigration authorities, who had a search, seizure and removal warrant, had first gone to the flat the pair shared in North End, which led them to a salon in New Brighton and then a cellphone shop in North End.
“Two people [Mangezi and Bokar] were arrested and charged through the Department of Home Affairs for aiding and abetting illegal foreigners [among other charges],” she said.
An official close to the investigation, who did not want to be named, said they were aware, so far, of about 20 women from the Port Elizabeth area who had married for money and promises of a better life.
He said Bokar and Mangezi worked from a cellphone shop in Govan Mbeki Avenue near the Pier 14 shopping complex and had been fraudulently married since 2007.
Immigration officials had been alerted to the alleged syndicate after a woman who had been recruited came forward.
“A lady came forward with information which led investigators to uncover some documents found to be illegal,” the source said.
“On further investigation the officers were led to a container in New Brighton with more documents [and], following up on further information, they were led to a shop in North End near Pier 14.”
He said Mangezi was arrested in New Brighton where a lot of documents were seized.
“They [Bangladeshi nationals] want to live permanently in the country,” the source said.
Mabulu confirmed that a number of Home Affairs documents had also been found at the premises linked to the couple.
“This has been happening since around 2015,” the source said.
Janse van Rensburg said the case was still under investigation.
Two Bangladeshi men at the cellphone store in Govan Mbeki Avenue were reluctant to answer questions yesterday.
The younger of the two men, both of whom did not want to be named, said the shop had been opened about seven years ago and was owned by Bokar. They were reluctant to answer further questions about Bokar, with the older man cutting off his colleague and saying: “We don’t know anything, we just work here. You have to ask the owner.”
Magistrate Sanjani Naidoo said yesterday Bokar and Mangezi would remain in custody while profile and status determination reports were completed.
The case was postponed to Tuesday for a formal bail application.
The two face charges including contravening the Immigration Act by aiding and abetting foreign nationals while arranging unlawful marriages to South African citizens.
According to the charge sheet, Mangezi, who appeared in court wearing a Springbok rugby jersey, is also charged with contravening the Immigration Act by recruiting South Africans to enter into marriages with foreign nationals.
Bokar faces additional charges of entering into marriage fraudulently with a South African to obtain a relative’s permit and then contravening the provisions of that permit. – Additional reporting Tremaine van Aardt