ALEXANDRA – Alex drug mule hopes to save others through her near death story.
June 14, 2017
A drug mule from Alex who dodged death in a foreign jail wants her harrowing experience told so others don’t fall victim to drug merchants.
Nokwazi Memela of Ext 8 who received a commuted death sentence in 2008 in Iran for drug possession and was freed after a seven-year prison term, also had two operations which nearly cost her her life.
Memela is concerned other South Africans are falling victim to dubious churches masquerading as spiritual saviours and miracle healers. “Don’t let them work on your mind and deceive you. Trust your instincts,” she urged.
She was lured by promises of a better life by Nigerian pastors from a charismatic ‘miracle-performing’ church on Sanders and Grafton streets in Yeoville in 2005.
This is her story …
A PROMISE OF LUXURY
After some persuasion by the pastors, the unemployed Memela eventually joined the church and was given food parcels and occasionally money. They would visit her home in flashy vehicles and promised to change her life.
Eventually, they made her the irresistible job offer of exporting carpets from Iraq to China. An offer that she believed would get her children into top schools, enable her to buy a house and be secure in comfort.
She accepted the offer and the pastors then urged her to employ two people to care for her children while she was away, who they would pay salaries to, a commitment she said they reneged on, resulting in the children being cared for by her relatives while she was incarcerated.
They organised her travel arrangements with the relevant embassies in Pretoria and gave her limited foreign currency for the trip.
ARRIVES IN FOREIGN COUNTRY, THE NIGHTMARE BEGINS
She arrived at Tehran Airport early in 2006. She booked into a hotel but shortly afterwards was moved to an unfurnished apartment by the pastors’ male contacts. She began to feel uneasy and they tried to reassure her, however, her intuition started to fuel the suspicion of entrapment.
A Ugandan woman appeared from another room in which they temporarily shared a bed base and blanket at night. After a few days, when questioned about the promised job, their hosts refused to respond to her query and became hostile to her and her roommate. “They refused to let us out of the building, confiscated our passports, gave us smelly food and forced us to crouch whenever we passed a window and told us not to cough to avoid attracting attention,” she said.
After a couple of weeks, she heard people using the toilet and she and her roommate were then presented with a large number oblong parcels wrapped in plastic and smeared with faeces. The two women were then ordered to clean and swallow them.
BEATEN AND FORCED TO SWALLOW DRUGS
They resisted, however, they were beaten until they relented. They swallowed some of the objects and hid others when the captors left the room temporarily.
That same night she became very dizzy and they were taken to Tehran Airport.
When they tried to board a flight to China, they were arrested for drug possession.
The Ugandan woman was immediately detained and, Memela passed out while she was being questioned by immigration authorities and woke up in excruciating pain in a hospital. She had undergone an emergency operation to remove one of the objects they told her was a drug pack which had burst. About 40 other packs were removed, including others that had been forced into her private parts by the captors.
BUSTED FOR DRUG POSSESSION, FORCED TO UNDERGO SURGERY TO REMOVE HIDDEN DRUGS
Three days later she was sent to a prison.
The operation wound became septic and fellow inmates tried in vain to bandage her with rags until a doctor was eventually called. In the cell, he cleaned out the puss and restitched the wound without anaesthetic – declaring that criminals deserved the pain. The dirty conditions and poor food hampered her recovery.
She said other jailed victims of the scam included two white South Africans and people from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, China, Indonesia and Malaysia. She added that she met an old white male South African in prison. She suspects his family didn’t know of his imprisonment because after he died, he received a pauper’s burial.
FACES THE MUSIC
Later in the year she had a court hearing and was given a death sentence for drug possession. Her inmates told her it could be carried out in 30 days, and international media ran the story. She, however, welcomed the sentence as it would end her pain and suffering.
Her captors were present at the hearing to face their own charges after they had also been arrested. They accused her and her roommate of reporting them to the police, but Memela believes they had been traced through a phone they gave her on arrival in Tehran.
During her incarceration, she asked for improved conditions through the embassy but nothing changed. This drove her into a severe depression resulting in multiple suicide attempts and developed swollen legs which she attributed to heart problems. She also had a hysterectomy after she developed cancer of the womb.
A MIRACLE HAPPENS… SHE IS RELEASED
Then, in 2013, out of the blue, after serving seven years, she was released on 13 April.
On the flight back home which was facilitated by the embassy, Memela loudly pronounced her freedom to fellow travellers in the limited Arabic she learnt while in jail. They all expressed surprise and joy at her lucky escape.
“I had been found with 3 700 grammes of drugs which is equivalent to multiple death sentences in a country which usually imposes such a sentence for the possession of only 30 grammes,” she said.
The South African government facilitated her return, empty-handed, to her five children who she hopes to now protect and nurture well
She contacted the church on her return, but the pastors didn’t want to talk to her and claimed they had relocated to Durban. Afterwards, they were unreachable.
Memela is still in contact with some of her ex-inmates, including some who claimed to have been wives of the pastors who sent them to their fateful mission.
She now cares for other children through a child-care initiative to relieve working mothers and conducts motivational talks to create awareness on the dangerous drug dealing trade.
She is looking for support for her child-care initiative as part of her positive reintegration back into society.
Details: Nokwazi Memela 079 654 6112.
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