A former Wits student was sentenced today to 15 years in a Thai prison for attempting to smuggle drugs.
Nolubabalo Nobanda was caught smuggling cocaine into Thailand after authorities noticed a powdery white substance coming out of her dreadlocks.
Around 1.5kgs of cocaine were found in the 23-year-olds’ dreadlocks, with an estimated street value of $150 000 dollars. Nobanda was carrying the drugs to Bangkok for a cartel based in Brazil.
South Africa’s International Relations spokesperson Clayson Mayonela told TimesLive that Nobanda was also fined R250 000, and that her term was reduced from 30 years to 15 because she complied with the police.
There was confusion when the story broke in December last year when Wits denied that Nobanda was a student, while her family and friends insisted she had attended the university.
University spokesperson Shirona Patel said in a statement; “Wits University would like to place on record that Ms Nolubabalo Nobanda, an alleged drug mule, was never registered as a student at Wits University.”
However it was later confirmed by Wits that Nobanda had in fact been enrolled in 2007.
Drug mules like Nobanda are often used as decoys for larger quantities of drugs, which go through customs unnoticed while authorities deal with the first mule. Nobanda told her parents in a letter that her friend, also carrying drugs, made it through customs unnoticed.
Legal steps have already been taken in the UK to give drug mules more lenient sentences, as the women who end up carrying the drugs are usually have no other option to pay off drug debts, or sometimes do not even know they are carrying drugs. Sentences have been reduced to five years, with mitigating factors to be taken into account by judges.
Due to international law, the mules are tried in the country they are arrested, which means Nobanda will have to serve her sentence in a Bangkok jail.
More than 600 South African drug mules are in foreign jails, according to Locked Up, a website dedicated to drawing attention to the plight of South Africans held in foreign prisons.
Click here to see a video from News24 about Nobanda’s sentencing