‘Drug dealers use pregnant SA girls as drug mules’

2013-09-15 06:01

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After spending four years in a crowded Brazilian prison for drug trafficking, Nombali Xundu has turned a corner, giving motivational talks in communities ravaged by drugs and alcohol abuse.

Barely a week after she returned home last Friday, the 33-year old Soweto-born mother was in Ikageng, North West, this week warning the youth and parents about the dangers of substance abuse.

On her return, Xundu did not hesitate to accept an offer from the department of social development to share her experiences of being incarcerated in a foreign prison.

She addressed young people at an alcohol and substance outreach centre and said young South African women were imprisoned in Brazil almost daily for drug smuggling.

“Almost every day I was there, girls from South Africa are caught trying to smuggle drugs. The majority of drug smugglers are women, not men. That should tell you something about the influence from boyfriends who don’t really love you but want to use you.

“Drug dealers are using their pregnant South African girls as drug mules. This modus operandi is meant to fool customs officials who would never suspect a pregnant woman of being a drug mule,” she said.

According to the department of social development, an estimated 337 South African women, between the ages of 29 and 62, are in foreign jails for smuggling drugs and these numbers are on a sharp increase.

Nearly 30 South African women are known to have been jailed in Brazil for drug trafficking this year alone.

She was one of the South African women who were met by Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini in July when she carried out a mercy mission to Brazil to bring home two children of South African women serving time for drug trafficking.

“We’re losing our kids to drugs just because we can’t show them love. It is a concern that there are South African girls between 19 and 20 in jails in Brazil, when in the past it was mostly women in their mid-thirties. Now you find women over 50 years old caught trying to smuggle drugs,” said Xundu.

Her message to the Ikageng community was that young people, especially girls, are easy targets for recruitment into drug trafficking when they feel worthless and unloved.

“The one thing that stood out of all the discussions we had as South African girls in that prison was that we were vulnerable young women looking for validation of being loved, even from people who were a bad influence on us.

“The girls I left behind spoke about how their parents, and fathers in particular, never told them they loved them. I am saying to parents, love your children and tell them you love them. That means the world to them and makes a massive difference in the type of person that child becomes.

“When you’ve never heard the words ‘I love you’ from your mother or father, you go outside and a man tells you you’re beautiful, that is your weak point as a woman and you will do anything they say to keep them happy,” said Xundu, who has been cut off from her daughter since her arrest.

A friend recruited Xundu to bring back a parcel from Brazil and she was promised R30 000 to deliver 2kg of cocaine.

Desperate and in need of cash, Xundu was caught on her first attempt as a drug mule.

Xundu was caught and sentenced to 15 years, but the magistrate changed the sentence because she had told the truth.

She counts herself lucky that the sentence was handed down just before Brazilian law makers changed the minimum sentence for international drug trafficking to eight years.

Four years and three months later, after sharing the prison cell with three other women, sleeping on cement beds and floors, Xundu is now fluent in Portuguese because she was forced to learn the language in an environment where almost no English is spoken.

“If you can’t speak their language it’s a problem, you won’t get any help and you can’t help yourself. You have to learn that language by force. If you’re a foreigner it’s very difficult,” said Xundu.

During her entire imprisonment, the only way she could communicate with the outside world was through letters. But no one, including her family, ever responded to them.

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