Durban - Another South African has been locked up abroad on suspicion of drug trafficking – this time it is Durban harbour policewoman Sergeant Busisiwe Zungu, 36, who was arrested at Hong Kong international airport two weeks ago.
It was not Zungu’s first trip to China. She travelled there several times a year to buy stock for her informal designer clothing business.
She has also been a member of the SAPS for 11 years and is a partner and managing director at Impunga Holdings, a small business development consulting company with branches around the province.
Her arrest was confirmed on Monday by provincial police spokesman Major Thulani Zwane while her family declined to comment.
“When any police officer is caught for such an activity, the individual is immediately suspended and an investigation conducted. No further information is available since she was arrested in Hong Kong,” Zwane said.
Her incarceration came as a shock to her friends and business partners, who described her as a law-abiding citizen. They also denied that the Nigerian man she was allegedly caught with was her boyfriend.
Apparently she last contacted her family on January 22, telling them she had misplaced her passport, but she was planning to return home the next day.
“There is no way that she could have been smuggling drugs. She knew the law and wouldn’t have risked getting arrested because she was very proud of her clean record,” said a friend.
She said Zungu had at least 10 dependants she supported financially, including nieces, nephews and siblings, but she did not have children of her own.
She previously owned a house in Phoenix but sold it a couple of years ago to buy a flat in Pinetown.
“She did not live a lavish lifestyle, but she could afford the things that she wanted. I remember last year when she traded in her Dodge to buy a Range Rover people were asking where she got the money from, but Busi worked hard for her money and she didn’t spend it willy-nilly,” the friend said.
She believed Zungu’s luggage must have got mixed up with drug smugglers’ bags and the police took her in, thinking the drugs were hers.
Her partner at Impunga, Menzi Ndlovu, described Zungu as a real “hustler” (hard worker) but insisted she would never get involved in the drug trade.
“She wanted to grow as a businesswoman, but nothing in my interactions with her raised suspicion that she was involved in drugs.
“There must be an explanation for her arrest, but I guess we will have to allow the law to run its course and pray that she comes home soon,” he said.
South Africa’s vice-consul in Hong Kong Given Mlotshwa referred queries to the Department of International Relations in Pretoria. Attempts to get comment from the department were unsuccessful.
The Mercury’s sister newspaper, the Sunday Tribune reported that the department’s spokesman, Nelson Kgwete, had confirmed that it would investigate but would not divulge any details.
“All I can say is that if she was caught, our mission in Hong Kong will investigate the matter and let us know its outcome,” said Kgwete.
Patricia Gerber of Locked Up, the South African organisation that assists locals arrested abroad, said Zungu had now joined hundreds of South Africans in foreign jails who might never return home.
“Unfortunately China has the death penalty for drug-related offences, but even if that wasn’t the case, our government does not have a prisoner transfer agreement with other countries, so if she’s convicted, she will have to stay in China until her sentence is complete,” she said.
Gerber sympathised with Zungu’s family and said the grief at her arrest was worsened because they could not visit her to check if she was well.
She said the conditions in some of the prisons abroad were inhumane.
“By not having a prisoner transfer agreement it means that the foreign nationals detained here get to live off taxpayers while our own people suffer in foreign jails. Some families have to send money to support their loved ones who are detained abroad,” she said.
An estimated 1 500 South Africans are serving drug-related sentences in other countries, but Gerber believes the figure is higher.
She said more and more young women were being used as “decoys” to protect the “drug mules” at airports around the world.
“A drug mule smuggles drugs regularly and they are never arrested unless the drug lord sells them out to the authorities. Unfortunately the South African police are not interested in following up when the decoy has been arrested, but that could help bring down the drug lords.”