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‘Two years was like a death sentence for me’: former drug addict recalls her time in an Indian prison

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Drug lords risk transporting illegal substances to Asia for a high-risk, high-reward lifestyle.

Footage from Kyodo News via Getty Images

  • The appetite for quick money and a luxurious life lures women into the drug trade.
  • While in prison abroad, some take up jobs to raise money to fly home.
  • They hide their drug operations from close family members for security reasons.

Despite Asia’s tough stance on the drug trade, some African women are risking everything for money.

News24 contacted the former Zimbabwean drug mullah who was jailed in India in 2015 after her luggage was tagged by security officials at the Cochin International Airport in Kochi.

Cynthia Mpunga, 42, spent two years in prison for smuggling ephedrine. Although it is an over-the-counter drug in some countries, it is banned in India.

On that fateful day, she was carrying a consignment valued at about 25 million rand.

She would receive a whopping 80,000 rand for her trouble, apart from accommodation, flights, meals and other amenities.

She said:

My family at home was worried. They thought I was being held in a cell, where I probably had no one to speak English with [while] lives in a restricted cell. Every scary thing you can imagine was in their heads.

When she was taken into custody, she went through a trial in prison.

“Two years was like a death sentence for me, but when I went to prison, I saw life differently. I got a job while inside. I used to clean and with a basic sewing background I also worked with fabrics.

“Like other prisoners who did work, I earned a decent salary. This money was deposited into our accounts every month. You could film and buy anything you wanted to use after serving time in prison,” she said.

When the two years were up, all she could think about was her daughter, who was only two years old when she was arrested.

The case of Lesedi Molapisi, 30, a woman from Botswana who is awaiting trial after being arrested in Bangladesh for drug possession, brought back memories for Mpunga.

Mpunga was drawn into the industry by a South African woman, who she did not want to name for security reasons.

She said:

The idea of ​​traveling the world and making money that even some professionals don’t take home was appealing. The routine looked pretty simple because in some cases you’re sure someone is looking for you.

She had been to India five times in three months, and that raised suspicions. Officials usually look at previous stamps in passports.

“The money was good, and the more jobs the better, but you forget that it’s a signal. As they say, high risk, high return. That’s what I had in mind,” she added.

For security reasons, drug lords keep their work secret. They usually hide their travel documents from their families and their itineraries.

“You hide such things from your husband or loved ones. They don’t even have to see your passport, and you don’t reveal it when you travel. [things]”, she added.

For Mpunga, her arrest in India was her second arrest for drugs in the same year.

The first time this happened was at the beginning of the year in Botswana at the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. She arrived in Gaborone from India via Kenya.

She said:

I had 20 kg of a prohibited substance in my luggage. I spent two months there, then paid a fine of 10,000 rubles and was released.

She was also banned from entering Botswana for 10 years.


The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hans Seidel Foundation. Stories created through Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect the views of the Hans Seidel Foundation.

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