THE BIG READ: No bars in drug trade
SADLY, as convicted drug mule Nolubabalo Nobanda begins her 15- or 17-year jail term (depending on whether she can raise the R250000 fine which is part of her sentence), more young women and men are being enticed into the murky underworld of drug smuggling.
For every young woman or man who is nabbed in a foreign airport with a minuscule amount of drugs in the multi-billion dollar drug trade, there are many more like them who replace them as decoys, while the big-time drug traffickers smuggle the amounts that keep this business thriving.
And it is not the desperate young men and women who don't know where their next meal is going to come from who are recruited as mules. No, the poor and desperate are usually better suited to being drug addicts.
The perfect candidates for drug traffickers are the men and women who believe the myth that drug mules who are caught are desperate and gullible.
Drug mules are managers at fancy restaurants, like 44-year-old Brett Savage, who was sentenced to life in prison last month after being arrested with R3.5-million worth of tik in Bali last year. Savage's mother told the Cape Argus "her only son did not do drugs or drink, and she'd been shocked when she'd heard he had been arrested in Bali. She'd not even known he was going to Bali".
They are former beauty queens like Vanessa Goosen, who was a Miss South Africa finalist in 1994. Goosen, now 38, spent 16 years in a Thai jail for drug smuggling. She was released in 2010. Goosen was pregnant during her arrest on April 17 1994 at Bangkok airport with 2.7kg of heroin hidden in hollowed-out books in her luggage. She maintained she was framed by her child's father.
They are people who are from families that can afford overseas holidays, like Alexander Shani Krebs, who was lucky to be pardoned by the king after spending 18 years in a Thai jail. He was arrested on the day before South Africa held its first democratic elections while trying to smuggle heroin out of Thailand to South Africa.
Joan Sacks told The Star last month that her younger brother was on holiday, which she had paid for to cheer him after he broke up with his fiancée. While in Thailand, his bags, with all his belongings, were stolen from his hotel room. He met a Nigerian man in a bar who asked him to carry a bag to South Africa. The bag contained drugs.
He is one of the lucky ones - his death sentence was reduced to 100 years, then 40 years and then the king, who was celebrating 84th birthday, pardoned him.
They are young women who attend church, are trusted by their employers and are exceptional court interpreters - like Nobanda. One of Nobanda's former employers, an attorney, said about her in City Press newspaper: "She has never shown any greed or dishonesty.
"I fully trusted her. She received and handled money on my behalf from clients."
A testimonial signed by a senior magistrate, describing Nobanda's skills as an interpreter at the Grahamstown Magistrate's Court, often in the children's court, said: "She has excellent people skills and impresses all with whom she work. She is sensitive and treats the children and their families with great respect and consideration."
They are loved daughters and sisters whose families can afford to visit them in foreign jails - like Janice Linden, who was executed last year. Her two sisters were permitted to visit her the day before she was executed. The visit was allowed on condition that they did not tell her she would be executed the next day.
So, you see, drug mules are not the gullible, desperate and ignorant people we think they are.
Because they are who they are - managers, court interpreters, beauty queens and tourists - they think they don't fit the profile of the drug mule - and therefore think they are unlikely to get caught.
But being caught and being given a lengthy prison sentence or, worse still, a death sentence (whether legal or illegal) is the fate of each and every drug mule.
The level above your "common" drug mules, who are sacrificed so that bigger consignments can be smuggled, are the real traffickers and recruiters who scout for mules.
The higher one goes up the hierarchy, the murkier and more complicated it gets. It is pretty clear it is not a drug dealer's business. It is a world in which the police, politicians and top-level airport security officials all benefit. This is the level that must be exposed and the players caught, given lengthy sentences or executed.
Drug mules are small fry. For the big fish, it is business as usual.
While Nobanda and Savage are in jail, lucky Krebs and Goosen have been reunited with their families and Linden is dead.
S heryl Cwele, who was found guilty of drug trafficking, is out on R100000 bail pending her appeal, which will be heard in August.