Newsmaker: Babsie’s family count the years

2012-06-23 14:55

Sentenced to 15 years in Thai jail, Nobanda says she was forced into it, but accepts punishment

If Honjiswa Mbewu could speak to her daughter who began her sentence for drugs trafficking in a Thai jail this week, she would say: “We love you and we will always be by your side. We have accepted what has happened and we also want you to accept and look on the positive side.”

Nolubabalo Nobanda (25) was arrested in December while trying to enter Bangkok with cocaine stuffed into dreadlocks weaved into her hair.

On Tuesday she was found guilty of drug trafficking, and sentenced to 15 years in jail and a R250 000 fine after pleading guilty to possession of 600g of cocaine.

Advocate Ntsikelelo Sandi, who travelled to Thailand to represent her, said according to Thai law a prisoner can apply for parole immediately after sentencing. But he was advised to wait at least two years.

Her family was relieved.

“They were not harsh. I don’t know how we could have handled the whole thing if they sentenced her to 30 years,” said Mbewu, who has been treated for stress and depression since her daughter’s arrest.

When we met at Sandi’s chambers at the Grahamstown High Court on Thursday evening Mbewu, accompanied by Nobanda’s father Patrick Ncepu, looked withdrawn and was reluctant to discuss her daughter’s fate.

Later, Mbewu said her daughter wrote to the family regularly. “She had sleepless nights before the sentencing. But now she must just accept everything and try to be positive,” said Mbewu.

“She’s very positive in her letters. We are worried about her but instead she is the one who ends up consoling us, telling us not to worry too much. She is like that, she is very strong.”

In her affidavit dated June 11, Nobanda claimed she went to Brazil to accompany a friend who wanted to import hair chemicals.

She claimed it was only after meeting a woman called Hilda that she realised she had been duped into becoming a drug mule, and her life was threatened if she didn’t go through with it.

She couldn’t swallow condoms filled with cocaine.

“I cried and said I could not swallow the stuff. I was vomiting but I was forced to try. I was repeatedly told that this was the job I had come to do.

“I was screaming very hard in the hope the Nigerians would release me and let me go back home. I was also cursing myself for being so stupid,” she wrote.

And then they weaved it into her hair. When she landed at Bangkok airport the officials were expecting her.

In Grahamstown, Nobanda’s friends couldn’t understand how she fell for it.

Attorney Gudisile Mzupheza Yeko, who hired her as a receptionist in 2007, said in his affidavit: “She has never shown any greed or dishonesty.

“I fully trusted her. She received and handled money on my behalf from clients for whom I handled cases.”

In 2009 she worked as an interpreter in the Grahamstown Magistrates court, often in the children’s court.

A testimonial signed by the senior magistrate said: “She has excellent people skills and impresses all with whom she works . . . She is sensitive . . . and treats the children and their families with great respect and consideration.”

Mbewu believed her daughter “fell into a trap laid by someone she trusted”.

She feared for her own life after her daughter’s revelations about the Nigerian syndicate.

“We don’t feel safe any more . . . When you see a car approaching or a stranger walking towards you, you get worried. Even in the street during the day I don’t feel safe,” she said.

Her neighbours had also kept their distance since her daughter’s arrest.

“Her little sister seems to be affected in a much bigger way. She doesn’t quite understand the whole thing. She is always talking about visiting her wherever she is.

“In one of her letters, Babsie told her little sister she shouldn’t worry too much because one day she is going to be on a plane home.

“She even wrote part of the letter in the Thai language. To us it’s a sign that she has accepted her situation and she is dealing with it.”

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