SA drug mule finally returns home after debacle

Thando Pendu is finally back in South Africa.
Thando Pendu is finally back in South Africa.
Image: SUPPLIED

South African drug mule Thando Pendu is finally back home – but not before a litany of errors that delayed her arrival at the weekend.

One of these involved the government calling the family of Eastern Cape drug mule Nolubabalo “Babsie” Nobanda, rather than Pendu’s family, to make travel arrangements.

Pendu, 33, arrived at at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on Saturday, where she was greeted by family members and supporters who have worked behind the scenes to ensure she could leave Thailand’s International Detention Centre (IDC), where she was being held after her release from Bangkok’s Klong Prem prison.

Pendu served 10 years in the Thai jail for drug smuggling before being pardoned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn in May.

Days after the Daily Dispatch broke the story on June 7 that Pendu’s deportation from Thailand was being held up by the home affairs department, the department announced that it had given the South African Embassy in Thailand permission to issue Pendu a temporary passport so she could travel home.

She was expected to be on a plane back to SA within a day or two, but remained in the IDC a further two weeks.

One of those who has assisted Pendu, Hannetjie Strauss, of Pretoria, said her homecoming had been “deurmekaar”.

“I actually don’t even know what was going on with Dirco [department of international relations and co-operation]. All the documents were arranged, but then there were apparently issues with her passports,” said Strauss.

The Dispatch sent queries to department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) spokespeople Clayson Monyela and Lunga Lunga Ngqengelele on Monday.

Only on Wednesday did Ngqengelele respond, saying he and Monyela had been travelling.

He then referred the Dispatch to the department’s Nelson Kgwete.

“We would prefer that the family raise their concerns regarding the alleged delays directly with our Consular Services division,” Kgwete said.

Henk Vanstaen, a Thai resident, who assists South Africans jailed in the kingdom, saw Pendu for the last time on Friday.

He told the Dispatch that in the weeks leading up to Pendu’s release her mother had allegedly received threats from Pendu’s “ex-recruiter”, saying her daughter would be dealt with on her return to SA.

“This is the one who had falsely offered a job for Thando in Thailand to drive ambulances,” Vanstaen said.

At 9.30pm on Sunday, SABC3’s Special Assignment will carry an exclusive interview with Pendu. It will also be screened on DStv channel 404.

The Special Assignment programme, The Return, is produced by Hazel Friedman, who in 2009 visited Pendu in Bangkok’s Lard Yao prison and secretly recorded their interview.

Pendu related a story of how she had been lured to Thailand with the promise of a job driving ambulances, but how on landing she was informed that the job really entailed drug smuggling and that she was given an unenviable choice: submit or be killed by the Nigerian syndicate that had recruited her. While she languished in prison for 10-and-a-half years, her alleged recruiters continued operating with impunity in SA.

johnh@dispatch.co.za

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