CHIANGRAI TIMES – After 18 years in a Thai prison Alexander “Shani” Krebs, of Orange Grove in Joburg, enjoyed the luxury of sleeping on a mattress and taking a long hot bath this weekend.
Krebs, 52, arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Saturday morning to a hoard of journalists and supporters wearing “Welcome home Shani” T-shirts.
“He was quite overwhelmed, but he just took a deep breath, and walked through those glass doors to greet everyone,” said his sister, Joan Sacks.
“He is so exhausted,” Sacks said.
Krebs took his first hot bath when he got home, and didn’t want to get out.
“He also slept in a bed for the first time, which he actually found quite difficult.”
He was arrested on April 26, 1994, after being caught with 1.2kg of heroin at Bangkok’s international airport. He was 34 at the time.
Sacks previously spoke of how her younger brother was arrested.
“He had just broken up with his fiancée, so I booked a 10-day trip to Thailand for him.”
While he was there, all his belongings were stolen from his hotel room.
Later, he met a Nigerian man at a bar, and was asked to carry a bag back to SA.
“Because all his own bags were stolen, this was the only bag he had, and he was caught at the airport. I don’t know whether or not he knew there was heroin in the bag.”
He was sentenced to death, but that was later commuted to 100 years, then 40.
Krebs was pardoned on December 5, on Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 84th birthday.
Krebs’s 88-year-old mother, Catalin, said she never thought she would live to see her son again.
Sacks said: “I’ve never seen my mother so happy. She is just constantly smiling.”
Krebs was go to hospital on Monday to have his heart checked and get blood tests done.
An artist by profession, Krebs spent his time in prison painting pictures of what he saw and of political figures such as Nelson Mandela.
Since her brother’s arrest, Sacks had lobbied tirelessly for his release.
In 1998 she drafted a prison transfer agreement with the then Department of Foreign Affairs, but this was dismissed.
In 1999, she travelled to Thailand to beg for a royal pardon from the king, but was denied because she did not have the support of the SA government.
Sacks and her mother had booked a limousine to fetch Krebs from the airport.
“We’ve also bought him an iPhone and a laptop,” she said.
“It will be hard for him to adjust to 2012.”
Belinda West, founder of the organisation Locked Up, which supports families of South Africans who are in foreign prisons, was thrilled when she heard of Krebs’s release.
“When the organisation started in 2008, Krebs’s family were one of our first contacts,” she said. “His release is long overdue.”
West said there were about 12 SA prisoners in Thailand, about five in China, and about 400 in Brazil.
“Brazil has the highest number because this is where the most cocaine comes from, and there is a direct flight from São Paulo to Johannesburg,” she said.
At the beginning of this year the fate of SA drug mules became prominent when Nolubabalo “Babsie” Nobanda, 23, was arrested in December after being caught with cocaine woven into her fake dreadlocks.
Thai custom officials said they found about 1.5kg of cocaine in her hair after she got off a Qatar Airways flight at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on December 13.
The SA embassy in Bangkok warned potential SA drug smugglers it could do little to help them if they were caught.
She is said to have told authorities she was supposed to meet someone at a hotel in Bangkok to hand over the drugs, and that she would have been paid R16 000 on her return to SA. – The Star