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A MERE day after a Durban woman was executed in China for drug trafficking, another South African woman has been caught by Thai authorities for trying to smuggle 1,5 kg of cocaine matted in her hair.
Paraded in front of Thai television cameras, 23-year-old Nolubabalo “Babsi” Nobanda, of Grahamstown, was a dejected figure, her head in her hands, as authorities removed cocaine from her fake dreadlocks and piled it on a table.
Thai media reported that she travelled from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Bangkok and was arrested in the city’s Suvarnabhumi Airport after Thai customs officials noticed a white substance in her hair.
She reportedly admitted to police that she had smuggled the drug for R16 000 and was hired to deliver it to a customer at a hotel in Bangkok.
Its street value is about $150 000 (R1,2 million).
Nobanda’s brand-new passport, shown in the Thai video footage, was issued in November and confirms her date of birth as July 9, 1988.
Nobanda’s Facebook account says she was a pupil at Grahamstown’s Victoria Girls’ High where she matriculated in 2006, and states she studied at Wits University. It is understood that she works at the Grahamstown Magistrate’s Court.
Justice Ministry spokesperson Tlali Tlali could not confirm this.
“This has not been brought to our attention through official channels. We do not have the particulars of the person concerned and as such cannot confirm that she is in fact in the employ of the department of justice.”
South Africa’s ambassador to Thailand, Douglas Gibson, told The Witness Nobanda had not been formally charged so the embassy had not been able to meet her yet.
“We expect her to be charged soon and I’ll be meeting her on Thursday once she is charged and transferred to the female prison in Thailand.
“The embassy will give all the assistance she requires.
“I will get the details about who she is, where she is from and how she landed in Thailand once I meet with her. Officials are only allowed to meet and talk to foreign prisoners once they are charged,” he said.
Asked if the death penalty applied to drug smugglers in Thailand as it did in China, Gibson said theoretically this was the case.
“But I cannot speculate as to what punishment will be meted to her. In the past 10 years only two drug smugglers were executed taking into consideration the number of dealers in prisons, and these were not South Africans.”
Gibson said there were 12 South Africans in Thai prisons, nine of whom had been convicted on drug-related offences. Two, including Nobanda, were awaiting trial for the same offences. The 12th person was a man who is awaiting trial on charges unrelated to drugs, he said.
Friends were distraught after hearing about Nobanda’s arrest, with some taking to social networks.
Zintle Matshaya, a former student at Rhodes, tweeted: “What puts me at ease is that she belives in God too. God will never leave nor forsake her. Secondly, I don’t care about your opinions, but I know her to be a great girl who doesn’t deserve this.”
Another friend, Asanda Gqeke, told SABC news she did not associate Nobanda with drugs.
Another friend, Luvuyo Mahambehlala, said he knew Nobanda and it was not like her to be involved in drug smuggling.
Grahamstown resident Johan Conradie told The Witness last night: “I know her parents very well and I have only been a go-between between them and the embassy.”
Nobanda’s parents could not be reached for comment last night.