SA drug mules fill foreign jails

MORE than 600 South African drug mules and drug traffickers are in foreign jails. Almost half of these are in
jails in South America.

Sheryl Cwele, also top and left, keeping up appearances.
This week, five South Africans were arrested in Sao Paulo on allegations of drug trafficking.


sheryl cwele

They are being detained, pending investigation by South African and Brazilian authorities. Two of the five were allegedly found in possession of a total of 21kg of cocaine destined for the South Africa market.

The latest recorded figures from the Department of International Relations reveal that 619 South Africans have
Article rank 20 Mar 2011 Sunday Tribune NIYANTA SINGH informed consulates that they are in foreign jails for drug trafficking. But department officials said at least twice as many people did not inform embassies, meaning the likely figure was well over 1 500.

South America is regarded as a drug capital, as 90 percent of the world’s cocaine supply is derived from there.
Colonel Devon Naicker, head of the narcotics division in the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, said South
Africans from all race groups were serving jail terms abroad for drug trafficking. The highest concentration was in
South America, particularly in Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires. Naicker said a relatively new country involved in drug
trafficking was Mauritius, with a ready supply of heroin. There are about 30 South African drug mules imprisoned in

Neighbouring states in the past three years, said Naicker, had gone from being transit routes to major drug
markets, boosting South Africa’s role as a drug trafficking hub.

Naicker said a 32-year-old SA cocaine mule was murdered in Peru last week, shortly after being paroled.
Another died in a Brazilian jail this month.

Although aircraft passengers remained the most common method of drug smuggling, West African gangs –
“predominantly Nigerian networks” – were targeting air crew, often offering three times the person’s salary for one

He said vulnerable people, desperate for a job, were also targeted. “A person is promised a job… promised a
ticket to one destination, then rerouted and asked to fetch a parcel. By that time the person is already so involved,
they feel threatened or desperate, and go along with the plan. When they arrive at their destination, they are met
by someone and later given a suitcase with instructions… at this stage the person knows exactly what is going on.
Whether they have the option to opt out, we don’t know. As a courier, a person can earn, depending on the
amount of drugs they bring into the country, about R70 000 a time. Most of the drugs come in through our
international airports in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town, and are destined for those major cities as well as
the smaller ones.”

Naicker said the maritime industry was also exploited in the drug trade. “Drugs from China, Senegal, Pakistan,
India and other hubs come in ships hidden in containers in huge amounts. Recently, we found more than seven
tons of cocaine in a fishing vessel.”

Another modus operandi was girls being lured by men on Facebook. “These men chat with them, become
friends, gain the girls’ trust, and then use them as drug mules to smuggle narcotics.” Most of the recruiters are
from Nigeria and South Africa.

“The men offer the girls paid holidays to Japan, China, or South America, asking the girls to carry bags or
packages… we are advising these internet-savvy, university-aged girls to think before accepting such holidays and
gifts. Such things always come with strings attached.”

A month ago, Naicker said, they discovered a transaction involving 20 people recruited in South Africa, to
transport 20kg of dagga each to the UK. Ten of them were arrested.
Annette Hübschle, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said an “explosion” in the use of
hard drugs in neighbouring countries had boosted drug volumes moving through South Africa.

“It’s a remarkably sudden and distinct trend: countries to the west, including Namibia and Angola, have
developed markets for cocaine, and eastern countries, especially Tanzania, Mozambique and Mauritius, are now
heroin-use countries,” she said.

Locked Up In A Foreign Country, a section 21 company, was started last year to draw attention to people
imprisoned in foreign countries, after being used to transport drugs across international borders.
Founder Belinda West started the company after a friend was arrested in Venezuela last year.

“We keep in touch with families of people in prison overseas, we offer emotional support and advice.”
Patricia Gerber, the mother of Johann Gerber, a drug mule serving an 11-year sentence in Mauritius, has
become involved in the company by trying to initiate a prisoner transfer agreement.

Gerber has even brought an application against the SA government for its failure to consider her request that
the government enter into a prisoner exchange agreement with the Mauritian government, alternatively to provide
sufficient reasons for its decision.

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The case was recently dismissed in the Constitutional Court.
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