Sinegugu Ndlovu and Kamini Padayachee

A South African woman’s two sisters were to be allowed to spend one hour with her today – just before she was executed.

Yesterday, Janice Bronwyn Linden was probably unaware that she had only hours to live as, according to Sapa, in China the condemned are told of their pending death on the morning of the execution.

Linden was expected to die by lethal injection after smuggling 3kg of methamphetamine in 2008.

Yesterday, her heartbroken family in Durban said her punishment did not fit her crime.

The 35-year-old was arrested in the southern city of Guangzhou in November 2008 with the substance in her luggage after arriving at Baiyun International Airport.

Linden was convicted of drug smuggling the following year. She appealed the sentence, but a higher court in China upheld the original decision.

Reports said Linden had “attempted to evade supervision of Chinese customs to smuggle a large amount of drugs into the country, which exerted a very negative impact on society”.

The court decided it “should allow no leniency”.

The Star’s sister newspaper, The Mercury, visited Linden’s modest home in Austerville, Durban, yesterday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a male relative said the family found out about Linden’s case last year. “We last saw her in 2008. She had told us that she was working in England.”

He did not know what work she was doing in England, nor that she had gone to China.

He described her as a good person – but that she did seem to have financial problems.

“We communicated with letters. She said she didn’t know how the drugs got into her luggage. She thought she was framed. Her sentence is not justified. How can you take a person’s life for 3kg of methamphetamine?”

In her letters, Linden would tell the family she was doing well and that she was learning the “lingo”.

“She was supposed to have been executed in September, but the date was postponed. It’s tough but we’ve come to terms with it.”

The relative said it was hard to accept that Chinese officials would cremate her body and return her ashes to the family.

The man added that the Chinese government had backtracked on an agreement that they be given the body.

When she was sentenced in 2009, the International Relations and Co-operation Department appealed to the Chinese authorities to have Linden’s sentence commuted to life imprisonment or the equivalent thereof in Chinese law.

Department spokesman Clayson Monyela said they had been offering consular support to the family.

“We have been very involved in the matter. We have been writing to the Chinese authorities, appealing to them to commute the sentence because we do not subscribe to the death penalty and she is a South African citizen.”

He added that International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane had appealed to the Chinese delegation at the COP17 conference in Durban.

“All the necessary interventions were made by the department and even by the minister.”

DA MP Stevens Mokgalapa yesterday appealed for President Jacob Zuma to intervene.

“We call on President Zuma to make a last-ditch attempt to have her sentence commuted. Our government cannot stand idly by while one of our citizens is executed on foreign shores.”

Mokgalapa said that although South African authorities had tried to intervene, it was “clear that whatever our diplomats have done, it has not been enough to save Ms Linden’s life”.

“Our president must do the right thing and speak out before it’s too late.

“Drug mules should be punished for what they do. But this is clearly a case of a punishment not fitting the crime.”

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