'My island drugs hell'
It was the heroin stuffed in the wedges of her high-heeled shoes that ruined the young woman's life.
Brigene Young, 28, a convicted drug mule, flew back home to South Africa on Saturday night after seven years in jail in Mauritius.
She had one message for other young people - don't do what she did, which resulted in her joining 28 other South African drug mules now in prison on the island.
When offered a "free holiday" in return for delivering a "parcel", Young says it's simple: "Just don't do it."
"What kills you is the guilt. My uncle helped me every step of the way, though I don't deserve it. Everybody in my family is paying for something I did and they don't deserve it," she said.
Sitting on a couch in her uncle's Johannesburg home after becoming accustomed to the concrete blocks she sat on in jail, Young yesterday spoke of the road that led her to Port Louis' maximum security Beau Basson prison.
In 2003, Young was 20. Her mother had recently died and she had broken up with her fiance.
"I like travelling. It was a very spur-of-the-moment thing," she said.
She had been befriended by a man who frequented the bar at which she worked.
"He said: 'What about a trip to Mauritius?'" And she agreed.
He said the two of them would enjoy the holiday together but at the last minute he told her he could no longer go but that she should go on her own because everything had been paid for.
On the day she left, he gave her a pair of tan-coloured sandals with wedge heels to wear on the plane.
"I asked [if there were drugs in the shoes] but he said it was better if I don't know."
But she went anyway.
"He ruined my life."
Her instructions were to give the shoes, which were stuffed with 900g of heroin, to someone at the hotel at which she was to be accommodated. But she never got there.
She later found out from other prisoners that the shoes she had been given were "exactly the same type" as those they had been wearing when caught at the airport for drug trafficking.
The police who arrested Young at the airport told her that they were "expecting" her.
Young spent the next three years in prison awaiting trial. She was found guilty and sentenced to seven years, of which she served four.
She said almost half of the women prisoners were drug mules from South Africa, Madagascar, Uganda, the Seychelles, Kenya, Zambia and France.
After serving an effective seven years, Young was told late last week that she was free.
"On Friday at 2pm they said: 'Pack your stuff, you're going home'."
The first thing she did on arriving home was take a hot bath - there was no hot water in jail. The prison, she said, was "infested with bed bugs".
But the future looks bleak for Young - she will struggle to find a job because of her criminal record, one of her biggest worries.
Though Young is free, 28 other South Africans - believed to be decoys for other drug mules bringing large amounts of hard drugs into Mauritius - remain in prison.
Patricia Gerber, whose son, Johann, 22, was sentenced to nine years in a Mauritian prison, is taking the South African government, President Jacob Zuma and the ministries of correctional services and of international relations to court for failing to give reasons for refusing to sign an international treaty that would allow South Africans convicted abroad to be imprisoned at home.
Gerber, who has investigated heroin trafficking to Mauritius since her son was arrested in 2005, said: "The most [decoys] have brought in has been 1.5kg" of heroin, and the islanders buy 57kg of the drug a month - an increase from the 42kg a month of two years ago."
Gerber claims the "real" drug mules carry at least 10kg of heroin on each trip to Mauritius but are not arrested.
OTHER SOUTH AFRICANS CONVICTED DRUG MULES IN JAIL IN MAURITIUS
- Chanelle Ottley, 27, sentenced to 10 years for trafficking 578g of herion;
- Nosipho Mdeyiya, 28, sentenced to 10 years for trafficking 504g of heroin;
- Noluvuyo Ntama, 32, sentenced to 32 years for trafficking 285g of herion;
- Eunice Ndovela, 54, sentenced to 12 years for trafficking 577g of heroin;
- Arlene Parhboo, 36, sentenced to 7 years for trafficking 409g of heroin;
- Anneline Mouton, 33, sentenced to 10 years for trafficking 674g of herion;
- Marjorie Jansen van Vuuren, 45, sentenced to 8 years for 500g of heroin;
- Patience Makinan, 37, sentenced to 11 years for 232g of heroin;
- Sylvia Ntaka, 26, sentenced to 5 years for 35g of heroin;
- Martha Roux, 30, sentenced to nine years for 1.175g of heroin;
- Amanda van Wyk, 26, sentenced to 25 years for 1.5kg of herion;
- Phumla Inegbu, 29, sentenced to 14 years for 886 grams of heroin;
- Chrisella Schuster, 52, sentenced to 11 years for 530g of heroin;
- Annie Erasmus, 32, sentenced to 12 years for trafficking 2.5kg of cocaine;
- Joseph Mbokotwane, 40, sentenced to 8 years for 1kg of herion;
- David Harte, 49, sentenced to 9 years for 430g of herion;
- Edward Aimes, 27, sentenced to 13 years for 15g of heroin;
- Johan van Wyk, 27, sentenced to 7 years for 483g of heroin;
- Geoffrey du Preez, 55, sentenced to 10 years for 320g of heroin; and
- Johann Gerber, 22, sentenced to 9 years for 920 grams of heroin.
The details of the other remaining prisoners were unavailable.
Four additional South African men and two women are awaiting trial on charges of drug trafficking in Mauritius.