The family of a South African woman sentenced to 15 years in a Thailand prison for drug trafficking have called on SA authorities to investigate the circumstances that led to her imprisonment.
Nolubabalo “Babsie” Nobanda, 23, was arrested at Bangkok International Airport last year when police discovered 600g of cocaine worth about R16 000 hidden in her dreadlocks.
On Monday, the Grahamstown woman was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a R250 000 fine – this is lower than the original sentencing of 30 years behind bars and a R500 000 fine.
“She pleaded guilty and in view of this co-operation, her sentence was reduced,” explained Department of International Relations and Cooperation spokesman Clayson Monyela.
If Nobanda is unable to pay the fine, another two years will be added to her sentence.
While Nobanda’s mother could not be by her side due to her ailing health, SA embassy officials who attended the sentencing said Nobanda “remained composed during the hearing and was escorted out of the court immediately after sentencing”.
The embassy said it would continue to offer consular support to Nobanda and other South Africans serving prison sentences in Thailand.
Nobanda’s family have said that while they “accept that a due process of law has been followed”, they want to see the syndicate behind her involvement in drug trafficking brought to justice.
In a sworn statement before court, Nobanda described how she came to be a drug mule.
The former court translator, who had just started her own catering business, alleged she was lured to Brazil under the pretext of helping a friend get a job selling hair chemicals. It was there that she was allegedly told that she would be “selling and delivering drugs for the Nigerians”.
Nobanda said was scared for her life and warned not to try to escape.
When she failed to swallow the condom-wrapped packets of cocaine, the drugs were woven into her dreadlocks instead.
She was arrested upon arriving in Thailand.
“The only reason why I have pleaded guilty is because I cannot deny that I brought the drugs to Thailand … I am not a drug trafficker but a victim of the human trafficking business,” alleged Nobanda.
In a written statement to the press, her uncle advocate Ntsiki Sandi said her family wanted the South African authorities to investigate and arrest the individuals named in Nobanda’s statement.
“The family believes that some businesspeople acting as recruiting agents have committed an offence of human trafficking, and the law should take its course,” said Sandi.
“I’m sorry to all of you,” Nobanda wrote in a letter to them earlier this year.
“I know I have disappointed, hurt and humiliated the whole family. I ask for forgiveness.
“In life, one has to pay for the mistakes they make and (I) have come to accept my punishment.
“My only regret is that you also have come to suffer because of my mistakes.”