File photo: Independent Media
Bangkok - Home Affairs has been accused of dragging its feet for two weeks, leaving a freed South African drug mule to languish at a Thailand detention centre.

Thando Pendu, who the Thai government granted amnesty to and released from jail, has been forced to remain in Bangkok’s International Detention Centre because the department was allegedly dragging its feet in confirming her citizenship to the Thai authorities.

This proof of citizenship was required because Pendu’s passport expired last year.

Pendu, a 33-year-old from Welkom in the Free State, is a beneficiary of a general amnesty that Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn granted to thousands of prisoners last month.

The amnesty cut short Pendu’s 25-year sentence for drug smuggling. She had been in Bangkok’s Klong Prem prison since 2008 after being caught with 2kg of heroin strapped to her chest.

Previous media reports indicated that Pendu was lured to Thailand by a woman who knew her mother.

She reportedly learnt on arrival that there was no job for her, but she had instead been tricked into working for a drug trafficking syndicate.

The drugs found in Pendu’s possession were allegedly destined for China. Then 25 years old, Pendu never made it out of Thailand.

Speaking from Bangkok on Wednesday, Henk Vanstaen - a retired scientist who campaigns for the rights of South Africans jailed in Thailand - said money to buy Pendu’s one-way ticket was ready.

But she cannot leave the detention centre, thanks to what Vanstaen described as shoddy work by Home Affairs’ desk in the Bangkok embassy.

The Thai government wanted documentation proving Pendu’s citizenship before she could leave, he said.

“Since her passport has expired, the embassy needs confirmation from Home Affairs that Thando is indeed Thando,” said Vanstaen.

“Home Affairs has not confirmed to the embassy yet that Thando is Thando, hence the embassy can’t issue travel documents until they have confirmation,” added Vanstaen.

A man whose connection to Africa is being born in Rwanda, Vanstaen has become an unofficial envoy for South Africans imprisoned in Thailand.

He said Pendu was in high spirits and looked forward to flying back home.

“She is doing well and I will see her again on Friday, the third time since her release two weeks ago. She obviously can’t wait to go home.

“I raised the money for her ticket myself, among my circle of friends. Once the travel documents have been issued, we will then buy the ticket and Thando will finally be back home after 10-plus years,” Vanstaen told The Star.

Home Affairs denied being the reason for Pendu’s inability to leave the detention centre. Spokesperson David Hlabane said no request had been brought to the department to confirm her citizenship.

“According to our National Population Register, Pendu is a South African citizen,” said Hlabane.

“She was issued with a passport on May 12, 2008, which expired on May 11, 2018. The Department of Home Affairs has not received a request to clarify her citizenship, save for media enquiries.”

Pendu, identified more as a victim of human trafficking than a drug trafficker, was one of 14 South Africans jailed in Thailand for drug-related crimes. These were nine women and five men.

The International Relations Department revealed last year that approximately 800 South Africans were incarcerated in foreign jails. 

@BonganiNkosi87

The Star