Dead Cows for Piranhas: an exposé of the South African drug trade


Article: Marisa Crous - women24

In a brilliant exposé of the South African drug trade, investigative journalist Hazel Friedman dissects all cogs in the clandestine machine, called international drug syndicates.

Dead Cows for Piranhas by Hazel Friedman (first published in 2014 by Jonathan Ball publishers)

Award-winning investigative journalist, Hazel Friedman sets out on an epic, harrowing and downright dangerous quest to reveal the inner workings of the South African drug trade.

She drain-sniffs to connect the dots between international drug smugglers, the arrests of foreigners (farangs) abroad and the possible reasons why SA lacks a prison transfer treaty, which allows prisoners to serve some of their time in their home country.

South Africa has never signed this agreement, which means that, well, once you’ve committed a crime outside our country’s jurisdiction; you become (much to our police’s delight) their (the foreign country’s) problem. In 1994, shortly after Apartheid ended, a string of South Africans were arrested overseas, many in Thailand, for running illegal drugs like heroin.

Vanessa Goosen and Shani Krebs were amongst these now-synonymous-with-drugs names. Some were legitimately guilty, others claimed that they were coerced or fooled into it. Nevertheless, what was always made abundantly clear by our government, police and media was that these druggies, above all, disgraced our country’s name.

Armed with guts and a hidden camera Friedman proceeds to travel to Thailand to visit South Africa’s throwaways, the disgraced and forgotten about drug runners that were now stuck in Bangkok prisons, some for 25 years to life.

Yet, she considers an angle like no other. Friedman discovers that smugglers are often duped into running drugs across countries and are set up to get caught. They are pawns, lambs to the slaughter, sacrificed as dead cows for piranhas.

With some brilliant investigative techniques, skill and charm she uncovers how many are hired for the main purpose of being decoys.

They are set up to be arrested in order to let drug traffickers with much larger quantities slip through undetected. She focused much of her investigation on one such decoy, Thando Pendu. Hailing from Thabong in the Free State, Friedman reveals that Pendu was in fact a victim of human trafficking, not a drug smuggler out to make thousands from ingesting drugs and trafficking them around Southeast Asia. No.

She was deceived, coerced with the promise of a job driving ambulances in Bangkok by a woman whom she had known for years. This woman was even friends with her mother.

When she arrived in Bangkok, a naive Thando quickly realised that she was in big touble. The plan was not for her to drive ambulances, but to swallow large drug pellets, to smuggle them on a plane to China.

But when the young Thando weren’t able to swallow the pellets, she became a liability, the weakest link in a world where one quickly becomes replaceable. Therefore, she too was sacrificed.

Read an excerpt from Dead Cows for Piranhas here.

Interview: We chat to Dead Cows for Piranhas author and award-winning journalist about the research that went into writing her book.


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