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‘Freed SA drug mule stuck in Thailand as Home Affairs drags its feet’

‘Freed SA drug mule stuck in Thailand as Home Affairs drags its feet’

The Department of Home Affairs has been accused of dragging its feet for two weeks, leaving a freed South African drug mule to languish at a Thailand detention centre, The Star Reported.

DispatchLive reported on Wednesday that Thando Pendu, 33, from Welkom in the Free State, was now a free woman after she was released from Bangkok’s Klong Prem prison last week, and is awaiting deportation at the city’s International Detention Centre (IDC).

Pendu had been in prison for drug smuggling since October 2009, Mail & Guardian reported. At the time of her arrest, she was 23 years old.

She had reportedly been promised a job driving ambulances in Bangkok.

When she landed in Thailand she was informed that, to pay back the “loan” for her ticket, she would have to smuggle narcotics into China. According to Mail & Guardian, she was constantly under surveillance by a syndicate member. She could not swallow the condoms and so the stash was bound crudely to her chest and stuffed in her vagina. Bangkok customs officials had reportedly been tipped off before she even entered the aeroplane and, while she was being stripped of her illicit cargo, four other South African mules who had been coerced by the same syndicate slipped through on their flight to China, undetected.

According to The Star, Pendu, whom the Thai government granted amnesty to and released from jail, has been forced to remain in Bangkok’s IDC because Home Affairs was allegedly dragging its feet in confirming her citizenship to the Thai authorities.

This proof of citizenship was reportedly required because Pendu’s passport expired last year.

Speaking from Bangkok on Wednesday, Henk Vanstaen – a retired scientist who campaigns for the rights of South Africans jailed in Thailand – told The Star that money to buy Pendu’s one-way ticket was ready.

Dispatch Live reported that the money for the ticket had been raised through donations from Vanstaen’s friends.

But, according to the report, she cannot leave the detention centre, thanks to what Vanstaen described as shoddy work by the Home Affairs desk in the Bangkok embassy.

The Thai government reportedly wanted documentation proving Pendu’s citizenship before she could leave, he said.

“Since her passport has expired, the embassy needs confirmation from Home Affairs that Thando is indeed Thando,” Vanstaen told The Star.

When contacted for comment by News24, Home Affairs spokesperson David Hlabane said: “According to our National Population Register, Nontando Evidence Pendu is a South African citizen. She was issued with a passport on 12 May 2008, which expired on 11 May 2018. The Department of Home Affairs has not received a request to clarify her citizenship, safe for media enquiries.”