How I survived Angolan jail hell
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The Daily Voice brings you part two of the Diary of a Drug Mule, the saga of a Cape Flats mother who put her body on the line to give her children a better life.
On Thursday, desperate Mitchells Plain mom Roekieyah Lorraine Benjamin, 45, revealed that she was recruited to transport drugs for an international cartel in Brazil in 2010.
The single mom, who worked at a take-aways in Lentegeur, said the recruiter came to her workplace to “interview” her.
She has refused to reveal any more details about the recruiter, as she still fears for her life.
Benjamin was promised R20 000, which she was going to use toward a house for her and her three children, aged 18, 15 and 8 at the time.
She went through with the plan in February 2010 and flew to Sao Paolo in Brazil, where she swallowed 100 cocaine-filled capsules, which she was to transport to the Quadro De Fevereiro airport in Angola.
Here she and a South African man she met at the airport were taken in for questioning, and after police found drugs in his luggage, she was accused of working with him.
She was caught when her stomach started working, and she defecated 85 cocaine capsules, which Angolan airport police found.
Read more: I swallowed 100 cocaine capsules
She was imprisoned without trial.
The unemployed Eastridge woman reveals how she survived the next six years of her life in Angola’s most notorious jail, the Central Prison of Luanda, and how she was eventually freed.
The US State Department described prison conditions in Angola as “life threatening,” with guards regularly beating, raping and torturing inmates.
Among the problems are overcrowding, inadequate food, water, medical care and sanitation, which have led to deaths.
For the first time in her life, Benjamin saw the inside of prison, and she was horrified.
“The prison was nothing like South African prisons, it’s worse,” said Benjamin.
“Although they provided extra-mural activities like hairdressing, even knitting, the circumstances were bad. There was no clean water, the prison itself was dirty, if you sat somewhere there would be heaps of dirt, they do not know of hygiene, fresh water or fresh vegetables.
“The water you needed to dig out of a pit and mix it with bleach and it would have to stand for a week before you could use it to wash yourself – you cannot drink it. Or you would get water out of the river and wash yourself.
“You have to live off mineral water. They live off samp and beans and fish, which is very hard. I didn’t eat the food but had the bread and the milk.”
Thankfully the mom said she was never abused by inmates or guards.
She said at the time of her arrest, she hid away her SA SIM card. Inside jail, she borrowed a fellow inmate’s cellphone, and called home.
“I told my family to tell my children the truth, I didn’t want them to think I abandoned them,” she said.
She met three other South African women in the jail.
To make life easier, she learnt Portuguese and tried to get her Grade 12.
Benjamin would only see the inside of court three-and-a-half years later, in 2013.
“I received a letter and a court date. The judge asked how I felt. I told her I feel bad because of what I did and she sentenced me to four years. I contacted my brother to tell him I would be freed in February 2015.”
But then she received bad news – a second hearing was held in absentia, and the judge gave her four more years, after the SA man she was caught with was found guilty of drug peddling.
Benjamin said she became disheartened and depressed, and even abandoned her studies.
“The only thing that kept me going was the thought of seeing my kids again,” she said.
But then two years later, a miracle happened.
Eighty-eight prisoners – who had served more than half their terms and whose crimes did not involve murder or robbery with firearms – were to receive a presidential pardon.
“I couldn’t believe it at first, I was so relieved and so happy,” she said.
Benjamin flew home with donations from a Mormon church.
She finally got to see her children again on December 24, 2015.
But it was a bittersweet moment.
“I came back to no home, no furniture, no job and my children all grown up,” she said with regret etched on her face.
While she is free, Benjamin now faces the uphill battle of getting a job and a home of her own.
She and her 14-year-old daughter currently sleep on a mattress on the floor of her uncle’s bedroom.
The desperate mom said: “I will do anything, even be a tea girl or a cleaner, just to get my own place.”
*If you can help Benjamin, contact the Daily Voice via SMS on 32832 or call 021 488 4087.