Confessions of a Namibian Drug Mule

“IT is no use crying. You knew what you were getting yourself into when you came here,” this is what Namibian Martha Tjombe* (38), told her fellow South African inmate while waiting their fate in a cold Brazilian cell.

Unlike the South African drug mule, Tjombe said she had no idea drugs had been planted in her luggage. She pauses for a moment to wipe tears away before continuing to relate her story.

She was one 11 Namibians who were serving time for drug trafficking in South Africa and Brazil after she was arrested in August of 2009 when drugs were found stashed in her luggage.

“Two Spanish girls who were also arrested at the security points for the same offence also joined us inside the cell. I watched as they cried their eyes red, in fear for their lives while lamenting in Spanish,” she says.

In the cell next to theirs, an American man and a Tanzanian man also awaited their fate.

Drug trafficking is a serious offence in Brazil, and Tjombe did not know she was being used as a mule until two Brazilian policemen asked her if the bag containing a white substance was hers. She was asked to follow the officers upstairs.

Four days before, Tjombe had a normal life in Windhoek living with her son and husband, but things quickly changed when a Nigerian businessman named ‘Delington’ approached her at Soweto Market with an offer she could not refuse.

“He said he wanted someone to go to Brazil to buy Brazilian hair for him. I jumped at the opportunity to travel to a foreign country with all expenses paid for,” she relates.

She flew into Sao Paulo and met a man who introduced himself as Frank – Delington’s brother – at the airport.

“The arrangement was that I would collect the hair from him and be on my way back to Namibia the following day,” she says.

However, when Frank still had not provided the hair as agreed, Tjombe began to ask questions.

“He told me that he was no longer buying the hair as it was too expensive, but that he had something else for me,” she recalls.

Frank arrived at her hotel the following morning with 42 denim trousers that he said Tjombe was to take to his brother in Namibia.

“He had already packed the jeans in a bag but I asked if I could empty the bag just to be sure it was only jeans that were in the bag. When I was satisfied that the bag only contained jeans, I prepared to return home to Namibia,” she said.

But Tjombe never returned home to her family as expected. Instead, police discovered five kilogrammes of cocaine sewn into the waists of the jeans at the airport. She tried to explain to the authorities that she did not know about the drugs in her bag but they were not interested in her version.

The discovery of the drugs was the beginning of her nightmare in a Brazilian women’s prison that lasted five years. She did not hear from the Namibian embassy for two years.

Prison conditions were brutal and inhumane. The cells were always overcrowded and inmates would fight regularly. Tjombe said on her second day in the cells, she received a rude awakening.

“A Brazilian woman deliberately poured hot coffee on my chest without any provocation. I had been warned that the older inmates usually took delight in bullying newcomers, but I decided to stand up for myself and retaliated and a fierce fight broke out.

“Prison wardens knew she was a troublemaker and they locked her up in a dark solitary cell for 30 days as part of her punishment,” she says, adding that she later shared a cell with an Angolan and three girls from Cape Verde.

“I met women from different countries inside the prison. We were 1 200 inmates, most of us jailed for drug trafficking,” Tjombe says.

She further says they were also sharing cells with convicted murderers.

“Those who crossed paths with some of the dangerous inmates were murdered inside the cells and the prison wardens never got to know the perpetrators. I was careful not to make any enemies and kept to myself as a way of survival,” she says.

She said most of the murders took place in the showers when inmates were less alert.

“As a result, we often accompanied one another to the showers because we were afraid of taking showers alone,” she recalls.

Tjombe witnessed murders in the showers every other week.

“People were killed inside the showers. We could not report the murders. A lot of women from Congo, Bolivia, Spain, Angola and South Africa died this way. We kept our mouths shut or we would also be targets,” she says.

The bloody evidence of the murders was often cleaned up immediately. In 2012, Tjombe was transferred to Butanta Prison, also known as the ‘semi-final prison’ where she served the remaining two years of her sentence.

“After another Namibian woman was arrested and locked up in the same jail because of drugs, I met Namibian embassy officials for the first time,” she says.

She says after the arrest of a second Namibian woman, five more joined them, also on charges of drug trafficking.

“The officials paid us a visit and asked what we needed. I told them I did not need anything from them because I had been in jail the entire time and they did not bother to assist me,” she says bitterly.

She explains that she had tried in vain to get a fair trial with the assistance of the embassy. “They did nothing to help me and I fought my battles on my own,” she says.

In 2013, Tjombe wrote to the Brazilian justice ministry and requested it to reconsider her case.

An official at the Namibian embassy in Brazil said he was not at liberty to discuss the matter with the media and referred The Namibian to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

After serving five years in a Brazilian prison, Tjombe returned home and was finally reunited with her family in April 2014.

“I never thought I would come out of prison alive,” she says. Today, Tjombe is trying to rebuild her life from scratch, and to raise her son who is now seven years old.

“Wanting to see my son again was the only thing that gave me hope inside prison,” she says adding that she is still trying to come to terms with what happened to her.

“I can never forgive the men who did this to me and the Namibian embassy for neglecting me when I needed them the most. As a Namibian, I am very disappointed in the way the embassy handled my case,” she says.

She says she learnt a few lessons inside the prisons. “Never trust strangers and foreigners who approach you with promises of deals that sound too good to be true. As a woman, you must work hard for your success and not rely on get rich quick schemes because there will be consequences,” she says.

Source : The Namibian