When a young South African drug mule was jailed in Mauritius two years ago, his mother accepted it would be decades before he returned to her Pretoria home.
This week, though, all the mother got back were the ashes of her 32-year-old son, Jan Venter, sentenced to 34 years in prison for trying to smuggle 1500g of heroin.
Venter died last week after his heart gave in, triggered by stress. Before he died, he’d been barely able to stand and was spitting blood.
The island’s chief police medical officer said Venter’s heart had swollen three times its normal size and his lungs had filled with liquid.
He dismissed initial reports that he had died of swine flu.
Venter’s grieving mother, Wilmien van Rensburg, has blamed the ”horrific” prison conditions in Mauritius for her only son’s death, accusing both the Mauritian and the South African authorities of having failed him.
Van Rensburg believes that had the South African government agreed to sign a prisoner-exchange agreement with Mauritius – allowing prisoners jailed there to serve out their sentences back home – her son might still be alive.
Van Rensburg has submitted affidavits complaining about Venter’s treatment and asking for an investigation.
“I feel heart-sore and bitter because they (SA authorities) did not let me know anything. It’s a nightmare. I feel like my hands have been chopped off,” she said.
She said she spoke to her son on the Sunday before his death. “He phoned me and told me he was good, but that he had slight flu. He said he had been at the doctor and he had given him Panado.”
Dr Sudesh Kumar Gungadin said this week that Venter had suffered cardiomyopathy, causing his heart to swell to three times its normal weight.
Bitterly disappointed with the Mauritian authorities and the South African Department of International Relations and Co-operation, Van Rensburg has asked the department to investigate the circumstances of her son’s death.
The department’s chief director of consular services, Dayanand Naidoo, said the affidavits had been sent to the Mauritian authorities.
”We cannot comment on the cause of death. We have requested the autopsy report and are waiting for the Mauritian authorities to forward it to us,” he said.