'Mule': family baffled

2012-02-27 00:00

IT was a weekend of tears, confusion and phone calls between a Pietermaritzburg home and Westville Prison.


This after police arrested 28-year-old Nomathemba Sweetness Hlela on Thursday, claiming she was a kingpin in a drug syndicate.

Yesterday she tearfully told her family in Imbali she knew nothing about the 540g of cocaine allegedly found in her luggage at King Shaka International Airport.

Just as The Witness arrived at their humble, four-roomed home, the phone rang.

Hlela, calling from prison, was sobbing so much that her mother, Margaret Mkhize, could not make out her words.

“It’s Nomathemba,” Mkhize announced. “Oh Lord, don’t cry so I can hear you.”

Then her own tears flowed and she herself could not speak.

She handed the phone to Hlela’s aunt, Celiwe Mkhize.

Then she burst into tears and gave it to Nomathemba’s brother, Mlungisi Hlela.

He walked out of the house and managed a short chat.

Minutes later he put everyone in the picture: “She is in Westville Prison, saying she doesn’t know about the drugs found in her bag.

“She needs food and clothing and she wants to see us.”

As far as the family is concerned, the dots just don’t connect up that their daughter should be had up for drug trafficking.

They weren’t even expecting her home from Dubai, where she had been nursing since 2009.

According to her letters, she couldn’t return home “because of her contract”.

“She was one of the unique members of this family,” said her aunt, Celiwe.

“She was a member of Methodist Church who hated alcohol.

“She would not even buy alcohol for her brothers because she was against people drinking. We would like to know what went wrong.”

The family said another nurse, whom they did not know, had encouraged Hlela to work in Dubai.

They took small comfort from the fact that Hlela had been arrested in South Africa and not somewhere halfway around the world.

“At least we will be able to visit her in prison to find out what really happened to her,” said her mother, “unlike the girls arrested in foreign countries.”

A relative at the home said the family found the situation difficult to deal with because none of them had ever been arrested.

Hlela’s seven-year-old son has been living with his grandmother while his mother has been nursing in Dubai.

Police said on Friday that Hlela arrived on a flight from Brazil via Dubai.

Hlela and Chukwudi Williams Emeronye (30), a Nigerian arrested with her, will appear in the Verulam Magistrate’s Court on Friday, where they are expected to apply for bail.

• mlondi.radebe@witness.co.za

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