by Jean on Dec 12th, 2014
Multi-award winning investigative journalist, Hazel Friedman, appeared at The Book Lounge recently to celebrate the launch of her latest book, Dead Cows for Piranhas. There was nary an empty seat to be seen as veteran musicians, Tim Parr on guitar and Dave Goldberg on keyboard, warmed the crowd with their semi-acoustic blues.
Mervyn Sloman welcomed Hazel Friedman to the stage, remarking on the fearlessness with which she conducted the interviews and wrote this heart-breaking story. Dead Cows for Piranhas gives voice to some of the harrowing encounters of various South African men and women who were tricked into transporting drugs.
He cited Friedman’s entry into a notorious prison in Thailand to visit Thando Pendu wearing a video recorder hidden in her hair clip; as well as another occasion when she wears “librarian” glasses with a hidden camera and attempts to trap a drug handler into disclosing what’s going on.
Sloman described her as no ordinary investiagative journalist, but as a woman who goes to extraordinary lengths to get her story. Yet, for her the journey becomes a pursuit of truth and justice, and the news she was chasing eventually becomes incidental. “Dead Cows for Piranhas is riveting, disturbing and a very important read that will stir your anger,” he said. He explained the distinction between “drug mules”, who willingly and knowingly transport drugs from one country to the other, and those hapless individuals who are tricked into transporting drugs in a process where they have no idea of what is happening to them. “They are offered up as sacrificial lambs, as ‘dead cows’, in a process well beyond their control,” Sloman said.
Friedman spoke about the multiple layers of entanglement, deception and corruption at every level of exchange in the supply chain that provides drugs to users. She shared of the victimisation of the people who find themselves unwittingly ensnared in a powerful web in foreign countries from which they cannot escape. The project commenced when she was approached by Joan Sacks, the sister of Shani Krebs, a convicted drug dealer, who wrote his story in Dragons & Butterflies
The discussion took an impromptu turn with the appearance of Patricia Gerber, the mother of Johann Gerber, who is currently serving time in a jail in Mauritius. Gerber is the director of Locked Up in a Foreign Country, an organisation that aims to pressure the South African government to sign onto the existing worldwide multilateral prisoner-transfer agreement.
Gerber described the coercion and manipulation that lead to her son’s trip to Mauritius. Friedman said of Gerber: “A shy, introverted housewife became a militant, in-your-face crusader. Ministers are scared of her! She’s relentless. If we get anywhere in terms of getting a prisoner-transfer treaty signed, it will be because of her determination and tenacity.” A heart round of applause went up for Gerber.
Sloman observed that South Africa, Ghana and Nepal are the only three countries in the world who are not party to this treaty. South Africans arrested in other countries cannot be brought back to serve the bulk of their sentences close to their families and loved ones. In terms of the South African constitution, which lays out how South African citizens are to be treated, the government washes its hands of offenders. Friedman said it was impossible to explain this in simple terms because “the contradictory responses have been going for years”.
Police complicity, turning a blind eye, market forces that preempt a drug bust, corrupt law enforcement, and the gangs involved in weapons smuggling, human trafficking and money laundering are all factors that Friedman touches upon in Dead Cows for Piranhas. If you want the cold hard facts of this scourge upon our society, this book will give them to you – no holds barred.
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