Beast or Bait

This week Special Assignment investigates the link between drug smuggling and human trafficking. The recent execution of eight of the ‘Bali Nine’ drug smugglers in Indonesia has once again turned the world’s spotlight on the transnational drug trade and the punishment for this crime. In Malaysia, where drug trafficking is a capital crime, a 29-year old South African, Deon Cornelius, is currently awaiting execution.

In the global narcotics trade there are two kinds of drug courier: beasts of burden or bait. The latter are usually coerced or tricked into becoming couriers for the sole purpose of being arrested, so professional drug mules carrying larger quantities of drugs can slip through customs undetected. According to the criteria for human trafficking identified by the United Nations and the International Organisation for Migration, these individuals should be classified as victims of human trafficking.

South African citizens Thando Pendu and Babsie Nobanda are serving sentences in a Thai prison for drug smuggling, a crime they insist they were forced to commit. If Pendu and Nobanda’s claims are true, they should be protected, not punished. And if it happened to them, there must be other South Africans who were duped into becoming decoys and are now serving life or death sentences in foreign prisons.

The Prevention and Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill, which tackles human trafficking, was signed into South African law in 2013. It has since been bound up in red tape which has rendered it operationally ineffectual.

While Pendu and Nobanda are destined to spend well over a decade in prison, their recruiters in South Africa have never been arrested, despite Special Assignment’s exposure of drug syndicate members who trick or coerce susceptible South Africans into becoming decoys.

Included in this story is exclusive footage of and interviews with Pendu and Nobanda’s mothers, who are attempting to get a royal pardon for their daughters from the King of Thailand.

Watch “BEAST OR BAIT” produced by Hazel Friedman, broadcast on Special Assignment – Sundays on SABC 3 at 20h30PM. Repeated Wednesdays at 23h30PM.