She was a devoted mother, popular member of the Hermanus community in the Southern Cape and a renowned chef specialising in African cuisine. So when Liz Warren was arrested in 2008 for drug trafficking in Dakar, Senegal, her friends and family were understandably horrified.
On Sunday, 23 December 2012 she was sentenced to 10 years in a Dakar prison after awaiting trial for three years. Warren will be 60-years-old when she is released. How did a mature and successful woman become embroiled in the sordid world of drug trafficking syndicates and drug mules?
Alarmingly, she is one of a growing number of South Africans, particularly women, who are lured overseas with promises of a job, only to be coerced into smuggling small amounts of drugs, or set up as decoys, while professional drug mules carrying much larger quantities slip through customs undetected. In the brutal animal-speak of global drug trafficking, women like Warren fulfill one of two roles: they are either mules – beasts of burden – or bait – decoys whose sole purpose is to be arrested. And the horrifying narco-argot for the latter is “dead cows for piranhas.” They are the dead meat thrown to the smaller predators, while the bigger fish continue to transport their illicit cargo without fear of arrest. In Warren’s case, she says she was offered the opportunity to run the kitchen of a hotel in Senegal and accepted the offer, only to discover that she had been set up. If her allegations are true, is justice being served when women like her are classified as perpetrators of drug trafficking instead of victims of human trafficking?
In Part Two of “Dead Cows…” Special Assignment continues its investigations into women convicted of drug smuggling, who insist that they bore no intent to commit a crime and were tricked or coerced into becoming decoys for dangerous drug syndicates. The team also follow-up the case of Thando Pendu – a naïve young woman from Thabong township, near Welkom – who was lured to Thailand in 2008 with the offer of a job “driving ambulances.” On her arrival she discovered that the job description had changed. The syndicate strapped 2kg of heroin to her chest like a suicide bomber because she could or would not swallow the drugs and bought her a ticket to China. She never made it out of Bangkok and is now serving a 25 year sentence for drug smuggling. Special Assignment succeeded in tracing the alleged syndicate member who tricked Pendu. Nozukile Pendu, her mother laid a charge against the syndicate member but three years later, the alleged syndicate recruiter who still resides in Thabong, is yet to be arrested or even brought in for questioning.
This situation appears more the norm than the exception; for every South African languishing abroad for drug trafficking – whether as a mule or a decoy – there is a recruiter and drug lord walking free in South Africa. For as long as the South African authorities refuse to recognize the link between human trafficking and drug trafficking, our citizens – particularly impressionable women – will continue to be targeted by ruthless syndicates who treat them either as beast, bait or both.
This episode of Special Assignment will be broadcast on Thursday, 4 April at 21:30 on SABC 3.