By Shaun Gillham
DREADLOCKED Eastern Cape drug mule Nolubabalo Nobanda, described in a sworn statement in mitigation of her sentence how she had been “deceived” into trafficking drugs to Thailand after meeting Nigerian national Samuel Uchengo at a property in Central, Port Elizabeth.
Nobanda was arrested in Bangkok during December last year after arriving in the Thai capital with a 1.5kg mix of cocaine and baking powder, estimated to be worth R1.2-million, concealed in her braids.
Nobanda was last month sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and a R250000 fine.
Her statement to the court reads: “Round about November in 2011, I was approached by my friend, Sulezo Rwanqa, from my hometown, Grahamstown, South Africa. She said she had a Nigerian friend in Port Elizabeth whose name was Samuel Uchengu. I did not know Samuel personally and all I knew was that he was once married to a lady from Grahamstown. His nickname is ‘Tuko’.
“He has a shop in Central where he operates from his house at Upper Hill Street with a writing on the wall, ‘New Age’.”
Nobanda said Rwanqa had told her that Samuel had a brother in Brazil whose name was Tony Uchengu and who was running a business that sold hair chemicals.
“Sulezo said she had been given a job by Tony to sell hair chemicals for him.”
According to Nobanda, later in November last year “we went to see Samuel who confirmed what Sulezo had told me. He said we should not worry about travelling expenses. He [Uchengu] was going to buy us the tickets and give us pocket money for the trip.
“He bought the flight tickets at a travel agent in Greenacres, Port Elizabeth. I do not know or remember the name of the travel agent.”
Weekend Post has established that there are two branches of a well-known travel agency based in the Greenacres Shopping Centre and that it is the only agency operating there.
After copies of confidential documents, which are said to be in the hands of Interpol ,was leaked to Weekend Post, it was learnt that “John” – whose real identity is known to Weekend Post – is a Thailand-based member of a trafficking syndicate which has been described by an organisation tracking drug smugglers as “a big fish”.
“John”, in turn, is linked to three other major smugglers whose identities are also known to Weekend Post. They are known to operate out of Thailand.
In her statement Nobanda said: “I am not a drug trafficker but a victim of the human trafficking business that is conducted in South Africa by foreigners who come to the country under the pretext that they are running from persecution in their countries.
Nobanda further revealed that she flew from Cape Town International Airport to Argentina and from there to Brazil and that it was only when she arrived in Brazil, where she was met by a woman identified as “Hilda” that she discovered that she was there to smuggle drugs.
“She said it was about selling and delivering drugs for the Nigerians. I was very shocked and afraid for my life. I realised that I had been lured into a trap. I looked at Sulezo who did not utter a word.
“Hilda said she also knew Samuel and said Samuel was recruiting South African women for Tony and other Nigerians based in Brazil selling drugs.”
Nobanda said she told Hilda she was not prepared to be a drug smuggler.
“She said it was too late for me to say that.”
Requesting the court’s mercy in her conclusion, Nobanda said: “I was sent to Thailand simply to get rid of me and to ensure that I would not go back to South Africa and report Samuel to the police.”
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday July 7 2012.