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The Grahamstown mother of a convicted drug mule was devastated when she learnt that her daughter would spend the next 15 years in a Thai prison.
A Bangkok court on Monday sentenced 23-year-old Nolubabalo “Babsie” Nobanda to 15 years in jail for smuggling cocaine in her dreadlocks. She has also been fined R250 000.
Department of International Relations spokesman, Clayson Monyela, said: “Initially, she was given a 30-year sentence, but that term was reduced because she was co-operative with the authorities. They reduced the sentence by half.”
Nobanda was arrested at the Bangkok International Airport on December 13 for trying to smuggle cocaine from Brazil to Thailand. Police found 1.5kg of cocaine with a street value of about R1.2 million woven into her dreadlocks.
She admitted smuggling the drugs and said she had been hired to deliver the cocaine to a customer at a hotel in Bangkok.
The Wits University student was the 12th South African to be arrested for drug trafficking in Thailand.
Nobanda claimed she travelled from South Africa to Brazil with a friend, but when she arrived she was forced by a drug syndicate transport the cocaine to Thailand.
Monyela said the syndicate which led Nobanda to Brazil had not yet been arrested by South African authorities.
Speaking from the Joza Location in Grahamstown on Monday, Nobanda’s mother, Honjiswa Mbewu, said she was not happy with her daughter’s sentence.
“I believe there was a lot of leniency involved but I was hoping for a lesser sentence,” she said.
“Her lawyer in Thailand said Babsie was relieved that she only got 15 years, because she thought it would be much longer. She seems to be in good spirits.”
Mbewu, who has not seen her daughter since November, will be heading to Thailand soon.
“Since she was arrested, she and I have been writing letters to each other but we were never allowed to speak on the phone,” she said.
“I am really looking forward to seeing her.”
Soon after her daughter’s arrest, Mbewu said she was in shock. “I never expected Babsie to do something like this. I was always strict with her.”
Nobanda matriculated in 2006 from Victoria Girls’ High School in Grahamstown, where she played hockey and was a member of the choir.
Belinda West, founder of the organisation Locked Up, which supports families of South Africans who are in foreign prisons, said Nobanda was “very lucky”.
“The Thai penalty for drug trafficking is usually the death sentence, or 100 years for foreigners. So by Thai standards, this was not a harsh sentence at all.
“But this will take a tremendous toll on her family, both financially and emotionally. It is a very sad situation, and prison life in Thailand will be very difficult for her.”
West said the organisation was putting pressure on the South African government to sign a prison transfer agreement with Thailand.
“There are more than 1 000 South Africans jailed in foreign countries, and we want these people to come home and serve their sentences here, where they can be closer to their families,” she said.