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South African gran tells of hell in Thai prison

A SOUTH African grandmother who is serving 60 years in jail for drug trafficking has told of her hell in a dingy cell in Thailand which at one stage she shared with 250 other inmates.

A Thai court imposed a 100-year sentence, which was reduced to 60 years in 1996 when prisoners were given a pardon by Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Naidoo is among eight South African women - including former Miss South Africa finalist Vanessa Goosen - who are serving between 50 and 100 years for drug trafficking in Klong Prem Prison in Bangkok.

She divorced her businessman husband, Rajen, in 1986 and was living with her daughter in Yeoville, Johannesburg, at the time of her arrest.

In letters to her family, Naidoo tells of her life in Bangkok's notorious prison - which has a population of more than 50 000 - and how sometimes she must get by on only one meal a day.

She also discloses that she has had to bribe warders to receive special privileges, such as the posting of letters.

In a letter to her son in Durban, the Chatsworth-born mother of two said that conditions became so unbearable that she contemplated suicide.

"I know I've made a grave mistake. This sacrifice I thought was going to be for all of us . . . but there was a great kickback - a kick so hard that I only wished the earth would open to swallow me up. This day. This moment. This year. Everything around me sucks. Let God just take me away. Then all problems will be over. I hate life. I really hate everything. The only thing I look forward to is my death," she wrote.

Describing conditions at Klong Prem, she said there were "many problems in here".

An engineer had to be called in because of major cracks in the walls and the prisoners had to vacate their cells. At one stage she was squeezed into a cell with 250 other inmates.

She said she desperately missed her family and her country.

"The most painful thing on earth is for a mother to be torn from her children, especially if she loves them just like the way I do. I am so far away that even a phone call is not possible.

"I wish I could speak to you and tell you how I feel and what is really happening. Life is damn hard. I only wish I could just wave a magic wand and a miracle would take place and I could start all over again."

In a letter to her ex-husband, Naidoo asked for expensive deodorants and underwear with which to bribe warders.

Her family, including her ex-husband, have become concerned about her mental health and have stepped up their campaign to bring her back to South Africa to serve the remainder of her sentence.

Ex-husband Rajen, 54, who has visited her twice in the past two years, said he was "deeply concerned".

"She seems to be at her wits' end and we don't know what else to do. She also suffers from high cholesterol and is unable to purchase any medication at the prison," he said.

Foreigners in Thai jails are normally sent back to their home countries after eight years to serve the remainder of their sentences. But South Africa does not have a prisoner transfer treaty with Thailand.

"We have petitioned everyone from local and national politicians to the Foreign Affairs Department, but to no avail," said Rajen.

He married his childhood sweetheart when she was only 17. He said that although they were divorced, they were "still joined at the hip" and he would do everything he could to help her.

"We send her money, clothes, underwear, cosmetics, chocolates and sweets all the time. Even though we were divorced, we still respected and loved each other immensely and that is why neither of us remarried," he said.

Durban woman Norma Payn, dubbed the "angel of mercy" because of her vigorous campaign to secure the release of South African prisoners in Thailand, visited the prisoners this week to give them emotional support as well as gifts and food and clothing sent by their families.

Speaking from Thailand on Friday, Payn said that Naidoo looked "troubled" but was "thrilled" to see her. "We only had 15 minutes together. Yet she was so happy to see me that all the things that troubled her were forgotten."


Archived from SundayTimes.co.za Article by Buddy Naidu Aug-2002.

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