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Two-thirds of South Africans jailed abroad are in for drugs

Two-thirds of the nearly 1,000 South Africans jailed abroad are locked up for drug crimes, the foreign ministry said Monday, after a Durban headmistress was jailed in Britain on cocaine charges.

“Of 985 South Africans in custody in overseas prisons, 67 percent were arrested for drug-related offences,” foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela told AFP.

South Africa has seen a series of high-profile drug mule cases, ranging from flight attendants on the flag carrier South African Airways to the wife of the minister for state security.

In the most recent case, 45-year-old Durban headmistress Annabella Momple, a dual South African and Irish citizen, was sentenced last week in Britain to almost five years in prison for trying to smuggle cocaine worth 350,000 pounds ($556,000) through Heathrow airport.

She was stopped by border police during a routine check and a search of her rucksack revealed “a number of towels wrapped inside polythene bags,” the British border agency said in a statement.

“The towels contained an equivalent of around 2.5 kilograms of pure cocaine, with a street value of 350,000 pounds,” it said.

In December last year a court in China executed a South African woman for drug smuggling, prompting a national outcry.

Other South Africans, mostly women, are languishing in jails in Thailand, Mauritius and Brazil.

In May last year Sheryl Cwele, the wife of South Africa’s intelligence minister Siyabonga Cwele, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for drug trafficking after she was convicted of recruiting mules to bring in narcotics from Latin America.

South African Airways in 2009 was forced to introduce tough anti-drug measures after 30 of its crew members were arrested for drug smuggling.