Durban - The director of Locked Up South Africa has called on the government to help with the extradition of South Africans arrested or detained abroad.

The call comes after International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu revealed that more than 800 South Africans are languishing in overseas jails for drug - and visa - related offences.

“About 21% of those arrested face drug-related charges, while 98 people were detained in China for visa-related violations during the past six months,” said the department.

However, Patricia Gerber of Locked Up SA said she believed 99% of all the arrests of South Africans were drug-related.

“When Nelson Mandela was president, he instructed the government to negotiate with other countries for South African prisoners to be transferred, but that failed to materialise.

“Our government should request those countries to extradite the people arrested or detained,” she said.

Gerber added that if the government extradited arrested prisoners and began their own investigations, they would be able to find drug kingpins.

“The government is sending a message that drug mules will be arrested in another country, but nothing will happen here.

“Between July and September, seven people walked through OR Tambo Airport and weren’t stopped, but when they got off in Mauritius, officials had been tipped off and were waiting for them. Why were they not stopped at OR Tambo?” she asked.

In the most recent arrests on November 16, Tristan-Lee Niemand, 19, was arrested in China on suspicion that she was working illegally as an English teacher.

Her recruitment agency promised to arrange a permit when she arrived in the country.

However, this never materialised. She is due in court next week.

A day later, four South African women - Londiwe Shange, Wandile Mhlongo, and Thembeka Sokhulu, all from Durban, and Viwe Tshaka from Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape - who were staff on the MSC Seaside were arrested by US Customs and Border Protection in Miami during a raid.

They were found with 7kg of cocaine and were held in custody with bail set at $250000 (more than R3.5million).

Last week, Busisiwe Manesseh Ndlovu, 43, was arrested in Istanbul, Turkey, for allegedly trafficking drugs.

It is not yet known what quantity of drugs she allegedly had on her.

Sisulu described the recent arrests as “disconcerting” and called on travelling South Africans to ensure they had the right documents.

“Know the location and contact details of the South African embassies, high commissions and consulates in the countries you are visiting,” said Sisulu.

She also said her department’s director-general would ensure that all South Africans who were arrested around the world received consular assistance.

Sisulu said International Relations’ consular services division, as well as the country’s diplomatic missions abroad, would make every effort to keep in touch with affected South Africans and their families.

The Mercury