Convicted drug mule Nolubabalo Nobanda, locked up in a Thai prison, has given authorities in SA the go-ahead to use her statement about how she was roped into smuggling cocaine overseas, to probe human trafficking in this country.
“I am not a drug trafficker but a victim of the human trafficking business that is conducted in South Africa by foreigners who come to the country under the pretext that they are running from persecution in their countries,” Nobanda, 23, of Grahamstown, said in the statement. It details how she was forced to ingest drugs for smuggling.
“These are acts whereby the targeted women are promised with jobs overseas, but only to find themselves trapped in a spider web of drug traffickers in foreign countries.”
Four days ago, Nobanda was sentenced to 15 years in jail for smuggling 600g of cocaine from Brazil to Thailand.
In a statement made last month she said in November 2011, her trusted friend Sulezo Rwanqa told her that she had a friend in Port Elizabeth, Samuel Uchengu, whose brother, Tony Achengu, had a business in Brazil selling hair chemicals.
Achengu had given Rwanqa a job to sell some of the chemicals for him in SA, but Rwanqa did not want to go to Brazil alone to fetch the products.
Nobanda agreed to go with Rwanqa.
Uchengu, who was paying for the trip, told Nobanda he had been unable to get her on the same flight as Rwanqa.
On arriving in Brazil, Rwanqa and another man fetched her at the airport.
The next day, Nobanda was told she and Rwanqa had to meet a third woman, a South African named Hilda, at a bus stop.
At the meeting, Hilda told Rwanqa and Nobanda that she worked for Achengu and asked the two if they knew why they were in Brazil.
Rwanqa replied she knew why they were there.
“Hilda said she was upset that she had not been told that we were very young people, because the work we were coming to do was very hard and dangerous.
“I asked Hilda what she meant by dangerous. She said it was about selling and delivering drugs for the Nigerians. I was very shocked and afraid for my life,” Nobanda said.
She tried to back out. “(Hilda) said it was too late for me to say that. If the Nigerians got to know that I was not going to do the work, they could even kill me or eliminate me… I took her advice to pretend I was willing to deliver the drugs.
“Hilda said some women had tried to escape but were found out by the Nigerians. Nobody knows what happened to those women.”
Nobanda and Rwanqa, who appeared to be in on the plan, were taken to a house where four people met them.
This was where the “training” started - they were forced to swallow condoms filled with drugs.
“I was vomiting, but I was forced to try… I was screaming very hard in the hope that the Nigerians would release me and let me go back home,” Nobanda said.
It was then suggested the drugs be hidden in Nobanda’s hair.
Hours later Nobanda, dizzy and in pain from the weight on her head, was taken to the airport where she learnt she was being sent alone to Thailand where she would meet Rwanqa and another man.
She would get R16 000 for the job.
On arrival in Thailand, Nobanda said, it appeared immigration officers were expecting her.
“They went straight for me and took me to a separate room. There the television cameras had already been set up.”
She tried to call Rwanqa, but Rwanqa’s cellphone had been switched off.