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CONVICTED drug mule Nolubabalo Nobandla, 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 help 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,” Nobandla, 23, of Grahamstown, said in the statement, which explains how she was forced to ingest drugs for smuggling.
“These are acts whereby the targeted women are promised jobs overseas, only to find themselves trapped in a spider web of drug traffickers in foreign countries.”
Four days ago, Nobandla was sentenced to 15 years in jail for smuggling 600g of cocaine from Brazil to Thailand.
In a statement made last month, she said that last November her trusted friend, Sulezo Rwanqa, told her that she had a friend in Port Elizabeth, Samuel Achengu, whose brother Tony 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.
Nobandla agreed to go with Rwanqa.
Achengu, who was paying for the trip, told Nobandla 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 Nobandla 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 Nobandla that she worked for Achengu and asked the two if they knew why there were in Brazil.
Rwanqa replied that 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,” Nobandla said.
She tried to back out. “(Hilda) said it was too late… If the Nigerians got to know that I was not going to do the work, they could even kill 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.”
Nobandla 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,” Nobandla said.
It was then suggested the drugs be hidden in Nobandla’s hair. Hours later, Nobandla was taken to the airport, where she learned she was being sent alone to Thailand.
She would get R16 000 for the job.
On arrival in Thailand, Nobandla 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.”