DURBAN, South Africa – A South African chef who has been living and working in Dubai for seven years is facing drug charges. He claims that he was set up by his former Egyptian flatmate.
The flatmate allegedly turned police informant to evade arrest and for financial benefits believed to be given to those who assist authorities in arresting suspected dealers.
Xola Msomi, 30, from Durban, a qualified chef who has worked at various hotels in Dubai, visited his family just before the national lockdown in March. About a month after returning to Dubai, he lost his job when a full lockdown was implemented by the Dubai government in April.
His mother, Bongekile, said Msomi remained unemployed and that he had decided that once international travel was allowed, he would return home. However, in early September, Msomi found a job at the Burj Khalifa.
“We were in constant communication and our last conversation before his arrest was on September 8. He remained suspiciously quiet and his siblings told me that he was unreachable,” she said.
A close friend of Msomi’s, known as Melody, from France, who had also returned to her home country after losing her job, contacted the family just days later to inform them that Msomi had been set up by his former flatmate and was arrested.
She said the flatmate had tried to force Msomi to sell him drugs and when he refused, because he allegedly had no relations with any drug dealers and had never used any drugs, the flatmate threw cash at Msomi.
“We were told that moments later police barged into the flat and demanded that he reveal who he was working for. Melody called the embassy but it was closed. Eventually she was able to get through but was told by an official that they could not get involved prior to being informed by Dubai officials on the case,” said Bongekile
The family then contacted Radha Stirling, a businesswoman based in the UK representing those detained in Dubai, and were told that Msomi had been moved from isolation to the general population of the detention centre.
“I couldn’t sleep or eat when it all started. I spoke to him for a minute last month and our connection was cut off,” said Stirling.
She shared a video on Facebook stating that Dubai had increased its attention on drug crimes but they were not looking for guilty parties but to secure arrests and convictions benefiting not only authorities and prosecutors but snitches too.
“What they are doing is setting someone up just to get the financial incentive offered to them. This is what we have in a case of Xola who is being detained but this is an overall pattern that we are seeing in the UAE, which is putting tourists and expats at substantial risk of being arrested and convicted on drugs charges even though they have nothing to do with drugs and never have.”
Patricia Gerber, the director of Locked Up, an organisation that assists the families of South African drug mules, said this was the most painful thing a parent or family has to go through.
Gerber said the first step for the Msomi family would be to contact International Relations to ascertain the charges. She expressed lack of confidence in the South African government saying many families in similar situations had been left in the dark previously.
“For the past fifteen years we have been approaching the government to enter into prisoner transfer agreements because of all that happens to our people but they don’t seem to care. Follow ups on people arrested in foreign countries don’t happen, local investigations of information given over related to these cases are not done,” she said.
“There are many other countries where our people are held but it takes years before there’s even a court case which is a violation.”
Gerber said in other countries prisoners were not allowed to communicate with their families and there was no feedback on what is going on.
“Authorities in foreign countries also don’t care, they are not interested in investigating. They dump foreigners in prison. I believe that it’s time our government stood up for its citizens. It’s going to be extremely hard for his parents to assist him especially because authorities in that country are not interested in his story.”
Lunga Ngqengelele, spokesperson for International Relations & Co-operation Minister Naledi Pandor, said in order for the department to know about a case, it needed to be informed.
“We visit all the South African prisoners abroad and there is a process that gets followed. For instance, the embassy would inform us if someone has been arrested.”
Msomi will be appearing again in court on December 22.