How a Durban woman ended up serving 7 years in a Turkish prison for dagga

Dagga plants. Picture: Unsplash
Dagga plants. Picture: Unsplash

She never thought that going to a Benoni-based church with a man she met through friends would end up with her being imprisoned in a Turkish prison for seven years.

But this is exactly what happened to a 48-year-old woman from Durban, who arrived back in South Africa two weeks ago after serving more than seven years in prison.

The woman was apprehended with 18kg of dagga in her baggage at a Turkish airport.

The woman wants to remain anonymous until she is able to expose the people who did this to her.

She said that she met the man in question through friends and that he had taken her along to a church in Benoni, Ekurhuleni.

Four months later, he asked her to take a bag to his brother in Turkey.

She was unwilling and said she didn’t know the country, but he coaxed her and said she could buy herself beautiful things with the R20 000 that he promised her.

It soon became apparent that the bag contained a large amount of dagga wrapped in plastic, gift wrapping and a blanket

Before they departed for OR Tambo International Airport, the man handed her a bag that was locked and gave her $200 (R3 000).

“It was only when I was already on the flight that I began to wonder what was in the bag. I wanted to get off. I am a devout Christian and I thought: ‘God, what is this?’”

In Istanbul she went to a hotel close to the airport, where she was told that a booking had been made for her. There she received multiple telephone calls from people she did not know.

“One told me to go to McDonald’s and gave me the address.”

While she was struggling to get the heavy bag down the stairs, a man came to assist her. He said he was a police officer and began peppering her with questions.

“I began crying and told him that I didn’t really know what was in the bag.”

It soon became apparent that the bag contained a large amount of dagga wrapped in plastic, gift wrapping and a blanket.

After three days in the police cells she appeared in court.

“The prosecutor told me I should be thankful that I wasn’t in China because I could have been executed.”

She was only allowed to call her family nine months after being caught.

More than three years later, on December 16 2016, she was sentenced to nine years and four months of imprisonment.

A Turkish doctor, who she was taken to at the time, asked how she had become involved in trafficking because she looked respectable and educated.

“I just answered that I had made a stupid mistake because how would explaining it help?”

I used to watch the programme Banged Up Abroad, but I never thought it would happen to me
Woman who spent 7 years in a Turkish prison

She says faith helped her press on during her years in prison.

“Some of the prisoners knew that they had been smuggling drugs, some even swallowed small bags of them. But about 20% of the inmates took the drugs in their suitcases without suspecting anything when they were caught.”

She began exchanging letters with another inmate, who eventually helped her obtain the services of a lawyer.

The lawyer visited her in prison and she was finally released seven years and four months after her arrest.

But she is one of the few lucky ones.

“Some drug mules who were in detention with me were serving sentences of 20, 25 years.”

She couldn’t even inform her family that she was on her way back to South Africa. She had to borrow a stranger’s phone to call her mother after she arrived at OR Tambo International Airport.

The woman says she missed a lot of family time while she was in custody, such as her son’s wedding.

She never saw a cent of the R20 000 either. She now lives in a room in a commune in Inanda, Durban. She says her new church is good to her.

But even after being released, she still feels like a prisoner.

“After being locked up with so many women, I like being alone these days.”

And she still can’t believe that she fell for a scam.

“I used to watch the programme Banged Up Abroad, but I never thought it would happen to me.”

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