DAILYNEWS/NEWS /10 June 2013 at 09:00am
By: YOGAS NAIR
Drug cartels were luring an increasing number of locally recruited “decoys” into the hands of authorities in foreign countries, to enable their drug mules to escape arrest.
This is according to a South African organisation, Locked Up, that assists locals arrested abroad.
Locked Up director, Patricia Gerber, claimed South African authorities were not doing enough to probe local drug cartels, whose hiring and deployment of decoys, she said, was tantamount to human trafficking.
Recruiters in KwaZulu-Natal and other provinces were being paid up to R7 000 for every decoy recruited, Gerber said.
She said that, since 2006, Locked Up had supplied various authorities – including police and Interpol – with relevant information about drug cartels and human traffickers operating in South Africa and abroad. Cellphone numbers of recruiters had also been given to police.
But Gerber said the lack of investigation had resulted in many drug decoys continuing to be arrested and jailed in foreign countries.
“For every South African sitting in a foreign prison there is a drug lord and a recruiter walking free in this country. It cannot carry on like this,” she said.
In the past year, Gerber said she had written to Police Minister, Nathi Mthethwa, national police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega, and Hawks head, Anwa Dramat, appealing to them to intensify their fight against drug trade syndicates.
“Drug lords operating in this country need to be brought to book,” she said.
“Our investigations have shown there is a direct link between the drug trade and human trafficking.”
Gerber said most of the decoys and mules were young women who were either tricked or coerced by the syndicates with the promise of an overseas job.
“It is only when they land on foreign soil that they are given the unenviable choice of smuggling drugs or being killed along with their families.”
She said drug decoys were set up by syndicates to be arrested in foreign countries.
“According to the International Organisation on Migration, this makes the decoy a victim of human trafficking and not a perpetrator of drug trafficking,” Gerber said.
“The recruiters lie, manipulate and coerce many of their victims into becoming innocent decoys.”
She said a drug mule trafficked drugs for a living, while a decoy was someone who had been conned under false pretences.
“There are many cases of South Africans who were forced to commit crimes or were set up as decoys, while professional mules slipped past customs undetected.”
She said decoys were generally only caught with less than 3kg of drugs on them, and in nine out of 10 cases the airport officials in the foreign country had been tipped off about exactly who it was they needed to arrest.
“Therefore, drug decoys then fall under the category of human trafficking,” she said.
“South African authorities refuse to acknowledge the link between drug trafficking and human trafficking. And if they do acknowledge the link, they are doing little, if anything, to apprehend the perpetrators here.”
Gerber said several families, including that of convicted drug mule Nolubabalo Nobanda, had attempted unsuccessfully to report human trafficking to local authorities.
Nobanda, known as the dreadlock drug mule, is serving a 15-year jail term in Bangkok after being found guilty of smuggling cocaine into Thailand.
Gerber said her family had given details of her South African recruiter to police a year ago and to date nothing had been done.
She said in many instances charges were laid against the perpetrators, and the identities of recruiters of drug mules and decoys had been exposed.
In a recent letter to Mthethwa and Dramat, Gerber said human trafficking was a serious problem and warranted urgent intervention.
She said Locked Up had approached several local authorities for intervention.
“The response has been the same each time: without statements there is no mandate to investigate.”
She said she had told Mthethwa that since 2006, not a single police officer had approached any of the Locked Up members to collect information about the detention of their loved ones abroad.
“If they did, a pattern would have emerged and key names would have been uncovered.”
Gerber, whose son was arrested in Mauritius in 2005, for drug trafficking, said she had known only anguish since then.
“The woman who recruited my son is still walking free. She is on Facebook and other social networking sites. Her details, including a telephone number, were also given to police in 2005, but nothing came of it.”
Hawks spokesman, Captain Paul Ramaloko, denied that information was being ignored or swept under the carpet.
“We are looking into these drug cartels. I cannot disclose our strategy. But it is a priority,” he said. “We are determined to win the war against drugs.”
Mthethwa’s spokesman, Zweli Mnisi, did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.
‘RECRUITER TRAPPED MY CHILD’
Convicted drug mule Nolubabalo Nobanda’s mother, Honjiswa Mbewu, said when she visited her daughter in Thailand last year, she had spoken about her recruiter.
The recruiter, a young woman from Grahamstown, was well known to their family, Mbewu said.
“She was like my daughter. I could not believe that she had trapped my child. Nolubabalo was just a decoy. She was arrested while the real mule passed through customs with 18kg of cocaine.”
Mbewu said on her return she had supplied all the information to police, but nothing had come of it.
“Nolubabalo was promised a job by the lady. She was told she would be paid to go to Thailand to do research on hair-care products. I never knew a thing,” she said.
“When she was in Cape Town, she called to say she was on her way to Thailand.”
Mbewu said 48 hours later, her daughter was arrested for drug trafficking.
She communicated with Nobanda through letters.
“I just got a letter from her this week. She said life was very difficult. Food was very limited and she was forced to bath in the open and sleep on a concrete floor.”
But, to keep her sanity, Nobanda was studying towards a degree in communication, Mbewu said.
She said she prayed daily that the drug cartels in South Africa were intercepted.
“Young people are being trapped. The buck has to stop here. It cannot go on like this,” Mbewu said.
CLOSURE OF UNITS BLAMED
Senior researcher and criminologist at the Institute for Security Studies, Johan Burger, blamed the closure of units, including the South African Narcotic Bureau (Sanab), during Jackie Selebi’s era as national police commissioner, for the lack of investigation into local drug cartels.
In South Africa, drug trade and use was expanding at a very fast rate, Burger said.
“When Sanab closed, drug investigations were given to organised crime units. While they have the capability, they also have other responsibilities.
“This has resulted in drug lords and related crimes being investigated from a desk in the organised crime unit offices.”
To fight the war against crime, the police need to reintroduce the specialised units, he said.
“I am not surprised by the claims made by Locked Up and other interested parties. The reason they are getting no joy is because drug-related crimes in this country are not receiving enough attention.”