'Two years was like a death sentence for me': Ex-drug mule recalls her time in an Indian prison

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Drug mules take their chances transporting banned substances into Asia for a 'high risk, high reward' lifestyle.
Drug mules take their chances transporting banned substances into Asia for a 'high risk, high reward' lifestyle.
Kyodo News Stills via Getty Images
  • An appetite for fast money and a life of luxury lures women into the drug mule trade.
  • While jailed abroad, some take up work to raise money for their flights back home.
  • They hide their drug mule operations from close family member for security reasons.

Despite Asia's tough stance on drug trafficking, some African women risk it all for the money.

News24 caught up with a former Zimbabwean drug mule who found herself jailed in India in 2015 after security officials at Cochin International Airport in the city of Kochi flagged her luggage.

Cynthia Mpunga, 42, ended up spending two years in jail because of ephedrine contraband. Even though it is an over-the-counter drug in some countries, it's illegal in India.

On that fateful day, she was moving a consignment that had a street value of about R25 million.

She would have received a whopping R80 000 for her troubles, besides accommodation, flights, food and other benefits.

She said:

My family back home was worried. They thought I was held in a dungeon where, probably, there was no one I could speak to in English [while] living in a confined cell. All the scary things you can imagine were on their minds.

When she was taken into custody, she went through a court process while in prison.

"Two years was like a death sentence for me, but when I got into prison, I saw life differently. I took up jobs while inside. I used to clean, and with basic sewing experience, I also did some work with fabrics.

"Like other prisoners doing jobs, I earned a decent stipend. That money was deposited into our accounts monthly. One could withdraw and buy whatever you desired to use after your jail time," she said.

When the two years were over, all she could think of was her daughter, who was only two years old when she was arrested.

The case of Lesedi Molapisi, 30, a Botswana woman who is awaiting trial after she was arrested in Bangladesh for possession of drugs, brought back memories for Mpunga.

Mpunga was drawn into the industry by a South African woman who she didn't want to name for security reasons.

She said:

The idea of travelling the world and earning money that even some professionals don't take home was enticing. The routine looked pretty simple because, in some cases, you are assured that there's someone on the lookout for you.

She had been to India five times in the space of three months before, and that aroused suspicions. Officials usually go through previous passport stamps.

"The money was good, and the more jobs, the better, but one forgets that it's a red flag. Like they say, high risks, high returns. That's what was on my mind," she added.

For security reasons, drug mules keep their jobs a secret. They usually hide their travel documents from their families and their itineraries.

"You hide such things from your husband or loved ones. They shouldn't even see your passport, and when travelling, you don't disclose [things]," she added.

For Mpunga, her arrest in India was the second time she had to be detained for a drug offence in the same year.

The first time was earlier in the year in Botswana at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. She had arrived in Gaborone from India, via Kenya.

She said:

My luggage was 20kg of an illicit substance. I spent two months in jail there and later paid a P10 000 fine, and I was released.

She was also banned from entering Botswana for 10 years.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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