Last week’s news that convicted KwaZulu-Natal drug mule Tessa Beetge was being released from a Brazilian jail after five and a half years has seen the plight of South African drug smugglers detained in foreign jails brought to the fore again.
International law expert Professor John Dugard says new legislation compels the government to do everything possible to ensure these prisoners are sent home to serve their sentences.
The Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act was signed into law in July and describes trafficking as recruiting another person by means of a threat, abuse of vulnerability, deception or direct or indirect giving or receiving of payments, compensation, rewards, benefits or any other advantage.
“The new legislation clearly includes ‘mules’ as victims of trafficking,” Dugard said in an email to The Mercury.
This meant that the government should try to secure the return of South African “mules” serving sentences in prisons abroad, he said.
The cause is close to the heart of Patricia Gerber, who runs Locked Up - an NGO that advocates for the rights of South Africans in foreign prisons.
Gerber’s son, Johan, was arrested at an airport in Mauritius in 2005 after he was found smuggling heroin into the country.
Johan was 20 at the time.
He spent two years in prison awaiting trial and is still serving his nine-year sentence.
Since her son’s arrest, Gerber has advocated for South Africa to introduce prisoner transfer agreements so that prisoners in foreign countries can appeal to be sent home to serve their sentences in local prisons.
But, as she understands it, this new legislation has replaced the need for such agreements.
“Now we just need the government to stand up and act on it,” she said. Gerber did not have up-to-date figures on how many South Africans were in foreign prisons, but said in 2009, there were more than 1 000.
“And the situation is getting worse,” she said.
The public is under the impression that people who end up as ‘mules’ go looking for this kind of work, but that’s not true,” she said.
“These are often first-time offenders. Some of them are drug addicts and some don’t even know what they’re doing - they’re promised lovely holidays and so they just go along with it.”
The Department of Justice was unable to comment on the legislation on Monday.
Meanwhile, 53-year-old Jo-anne Farrell, who was arrested at King Shaka International Airport earlier this month, appeared briefly in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Monday.
arrested after reportedly being found with 1.16kg of cocaine strapped to her body.
Farrell was supposed to apply for bail on Monday, but the matter was adjourned for police to verify her address. - The Mercury