Convicted Makhanda drug smuggler Nolubabalo “Babsie” Nobanda, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence in Thailand, has had her sentence commuted by two and a half years.
Nobanda will benefit from a general amnesty granted to tens of thousands of prisoners by recently crowned Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn earlier this month, said Henk Vanstaen.
Vanstaen is a Thailand resident who assists South Africans incarcerated in the kingdom. It had been hoped that Nobanda would receive a royal pardon as part of the king’s coronation celebrations. This would have allowed her to leave prison and return home.
Nobanda made international headlines in December 2011 when she was discovered at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport carrying 1.5kg of cocaine mixed with baking powder in her dreadlocks. She was 23 at the time.
In June the following year, the former Victoria Girls High School pupil was sentenced to 15 years in Bangkok’s notorious maximum security Klong Prem Central prison.
She has reportedly sought to make the best of the dire situation by studying and teaching prison authorities English.
At the time, the department of international relations & co-operation said her sentence had been 30 years but because of her guilty plea and co-operation, it had been reduced.
Now, in terms of the king’s general amnesty, Nobanda will have another one-sixth of her sentence (two and half years) commuted.
If the sixth months incarceration while awaiting trial is included, she has already served eight years of her 15-year sentence.
This means she could be released in 2024 instead of late 2026.
“All prisoners have received an amnesty, depending on their particular status [common offender, drug offender] as well as their excellent behaviour status,” said Vanstaen in an e-mail. He said all drug offenders with excellent behaviour status received a one-sixth reduction of their sentence.
Shortly before his coronation, the king reportedly issued a decree in the Royal Gazette in terms of which he said he would pardon some prisoners and commute the sentences of others to “give them a chance to become good citizens”.
Nobanda’s mother Honjiswa Mbewu declined to comment on the reduced sentence.
BY JOHN HARVEY AND ADRIENNE CARLISLE