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KRISTEN VAN SCHIE
The family of an SA woman sentenced to 15 years in a Thailand prison for drug trafficking is calling on SA authorities to investigate the circumstances that led to her imprisonment.
Nolubabalo Nobanda, 23, was arrested at Bangkok International Airport last year when police discovered 600g of cocaine, worth about R16 000, hidden in her fake dreadlocks.
Yesterday, the Grahamstown woman was sentenced to 15 years in prison and a R250 000 fine – lowered from an original sentence 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 Co-operation 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 at her daughter’s side yesterday 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, meanwhile, 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 the 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 SA authorities to investigate and arrest the individuals who were named in Nobanda’s statement.
“The family believe that some business people acting as recruiting agents have committed an offence of human trafficking, and the law should take its course,” said Sandi.
For now, her family are consulting with legal advisers on the way forward.
“I’m sorry to all of you,” Nobanda wrote them in a letter earlier this year.
“I know I have disappointed, hurt and humiliated the whole family. I ask for forgiveness…
“The bottom line is, in life, one has to pay for the mistakes they make and I have come to accept my punishment,” she wrote.
“My only regret now is that you also have come to suffer because of my mistakes,” added Nobanda.