Ex-Witsie sentenced to 15 years for drug smuggling

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.

Nolubabalo Nobanda

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

Witsies over the edge

Wits, according to its branding slogan, “gives you the edge”. Some Witsies, however, have toppled over the edge and found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

The now-infamous dreadlocked drug smuggler, Nolubabalo Nobanda, made headlines in December 2012 attempting to smuggle 1,5kg of cocaine into Thailand, by hiding the drug in her hair.

Nobanda was a Wits student although the university initially denied this. It later acknowledged Nobanda was registered in 2007, adding that confusion arose from Nobanda not re-registering the following year.

Nobanda was allegedly going to be paid R16 000 to smuggle the R2 million’s worth of drugs into Thailand. She was caught by customs officials at the Thai airport who noticed the white powder in her hair.

In recent years Wits itself has been the scene of the crime when frustration with staff gave former students a different edge.

In 2001, the stress of opening night proved too much for doctoral drama student Sikhumbuzo Yani who shot Prof Malcolm Purkey.

Yani allegedly drew the gun only to scare Purkey. But as Purkey fled, Yani shot him in the leg. Yani claimed the shot was fired after he was jostled by someone else.

Yani pleaded guilty in court to a charge of attempted murder and was sentenced to three years house arrest. He was also required to attend an anger management course.

In 2003 Glenda Lane, Wits’ assistant registrar of students at the time, fell foul of disgruntled student Thapelo Moselenyane.

Moselenyane held Lane hostage for six hours after he was not granted an emergency loan.

Lane was only released when Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who he had demanded to see, came to Wits and unlocked the office herself.

In court, Moselenyane admitted to everything but denied he was guilty. A panel of psychiatrists who evaluated Moselenyane found he did not know the difference between right and wrong and could thus not be held responsible for his actions.

The court ruled that Moselenyane was not guilty due to his mental problems and ordered that he should receive treatment from Sterkfontein hospital.