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Drug Mules

Drug Mules

by Brandon Edmonds / 11.01.2012

A Black Market Eucharist for the 21st Century

The population of Ecuador is Roman Catholic. As much as 95% in the CIA World Factbook. So it’s a safe bet that the 48-year old Ecuadorian man who was arrested at OR Tambo airport on Christmas day and who, according to News24, “during excretion (in custody) let off plastic containers that had liquid cocaine” was himself a believer. If he was a believer he would have experienced the Eucharist which is, as an online dictionary puts it, quite beautifully, with the terseness of Hemingway, “a ceremony in which bread is eaten and wine is drunk as a way of showing devotion to Jesus Christ”. By flipping a few terms in that definition we get at what drug mules essentially do: “an activity in which valuable toxic substances are eaten and carried across borders in the body as a way of surviving harsh economic times”. A new globalised black market Eucharist for the 21st Century.

Anyway, the man, “the Ecuadorian drug mule”, as News24 puts it, stumbling on a kind of beat poetry, died. And the police, in a sublime statement that suggests a little of the inhumanity of late capitalism, and the debasing nature of work today, had this to say: “Current diagnosis indicates a heart attack due to drug overdose. The value of the cocaine will be determined in due course.”

The commodity outlives the body. The body perishes but the coke (and the criminal network behind it) persists. It outlives the mule. It overrides/derides it’s own carrier. The stuff counts. ‘The value of the cocaine’ is worth more than a human life. It destroyed a man from the inside out. That kind of hazardous expendability applies to each of us. We are expendable to capital. Especially in a downturn. The Guardian called the international economy “a tinderbox” after an International Labour Organisation report found “entrenched levels of unemployment among the young” and “more than 1.5 billion people – half the global working population – in vulnerable or insecure jobs.”

Habits of journalism in the online era, the hit-trawling build to an implicating crescendo, insist I write: We are all drug mules now. And I guess, in a way, we are, those of us lucky enough to be employed, labouring on behalf of largely toxic goods and services, stuck in a system that demeans us. Aren’t we?

The case of Janice Linden, a South African drug mule recently executed in China, is even more illuminating; a cautionary tale about the losing battle between life and the commodity, with a very sad ending.

After the lethal injection and cremation, her ashes were returned to her family in, merci News24 once more, “a plain brown cardboard box wrapped in masking tape with a DHL sticker”. In other words, Linden became a commodity again, a package with a price tag, even in death. She never once escaped the logic of exchange. Executed by a State that is itself ambiguously situated in the global economy (accusations of currency devaluation, super-exploitation, and copyright piracy). Shipped home in a computer-coded box tracked by a multinational company, Linden became the inversion of the drug mule she allegedly was (and she insisted to the end that the drugs were planted on her). Instead of carrying something valuable inside of herself, or on her person, she herself became the commodity. Dust in a box. A legitimate instance of global exchange only once the commodity swallowed her whole. “They weren’t even decent enough to put her in an urn… she was somebody’s child.” Her weeping nephew said.

There are many Janice Lindens. South Africans morphing into drug mules as jobs dry up and prices rise. There are over 600 of us in prisons all over the world for drug trafficking. This past December alone: a South African woman is arrested in Harare, coming from India with two kilo’s of coke, another in Mozambique on Christmas Eve and another in Nigeria. African bodies have complex histories of border crossing. For work, to escape conflagration, societal breakdown, in protest and vying for a better life. Why not drug smuggling? One passage and you’re solvent for a while. One passage and you suddenly have options, you have a life. You’re a consumer.

We began with the perversion of the Eucharist and we’ll end with the subversion of another spiritual practice: dreadlocks. The ‘dread’ in dreadlocks relates to the wearer “living a dread life or a life in which he feared God” according to Wiki. I prefer the version of the term that takes us back to Kenya and the Mau Mau Rebellion against the British in the 1950s. The unsparing dreadlocked insurgents made the colonials shit themselves, filled them with dread. The post-colonial decline of the dreadlock as a progressive symbol, little more than an ethnic tramp stamp by now, a barbed wire bicep tattoo, is resoundingly confirmed by yet another South African drug mule’s recent arrest.

Striking 23-year old Nolubabalo “Babsie” Nobanda, from Grahamstown, was cuffed in Bangkok with 1.5kg’s of cocaine in her dreadlocks. Ever sensitive to nuanced political and cultural dynamics, 2 Oceans Vibe ran a “fun” gallery of her “cocaine dreadlocks”. The images of the woman having her locks unpicked by Thai customs officials and cops, men in surgical gloves and suits manhandling her hair, are creepy. At once futuristic and historical. A kind of postmodern slave block. A black woman reduced again to her own physicality. The trade secrets of her body. She hid the contraband in her own ethnicity. Turned her dreads into camouflage. Hollowing out their meaning in exchange for money. It really is suggestive. We could fill volumes about the commodification of blackness. Instead the last word goes to a slavering idiot on a News24 comment thread about drug mules: “They knew the risks and they took them. Why? Because the higher the risks the bigger the payoffs.” Precisely the logic, you’ll notice, of the stock exchange.

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  1. Merriman says:

    Edmonds, I don’t want to open up the comments with a nay-say, but that Eucharist analogy in the opening paragraph doesn’t really work. You’ve pretty much changed the definition of Eucharist so drastically – with similes that don’t hold – as to lose the metaphor altogether. Would you care to explain it in a bit more detail?

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  2. Oliver says:

    This is a great topic given to Mahala’s worst writer. It’s been a while since I’ve been here and the topics are picking up. Not great but getting there. Nice one Andy.

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  3. futomaki says:

    Ag Edmonds, give it a rest. This frantic scramble to draw analogies between any social ill and a market-driven economy is becoming tiresome and wholly pointless. Your tirade is in reality not against capitalism, but against human society and any form of largesse. Extend that logically and it becomes clear that your discomfort with the notion of quantified value and the need to work within a social structure to justify your sustained existence is the real issue at play here.

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  4. Hoogasta says:

    So we have Edmonds basically patching together a series of nonworkable Marxist-anticapitalist metaphors, stretching the limits of logic to make them sound reasonable. Now all we need is a caustic film review from Chetty, an irreverent gig review from Barashenkov, a white-guilt piece from Andy Davis, and some rampant feminism from Dawson or Stupart and Mahala will be up and running as usual.

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  5. Roger Young says:

    What about me?

    (Although I think this comment should do it)

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  6. brandon says:

    Take it easy. It’s like wearing a meat suit in a lion cage up in here. Agreed @Merriman the Eucharist analogy is a bit showy and unsubstantiated. That happens. Especially online. You want to sort of arrest the glut with something interesting. But it has to be earned. What I meant is: Christians partake of Christ’s body in worship in the Eucharist (wafer/wine are stand-ins for Jesus). Drug mules turn their own bodies into capital to survive (they physically become the stand-ins for the things they don’t have or want – commodities). Both involve the body, both involve death and a kind of resurrection. If that doesn’t come through in the article my bad.

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  7. Captain Lombard says:

    I thought this piece had a poetry about it. Something that DeLillo could fit a novel around.

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  8. Andy says:

    insider comment douchebags like Hoogasta, who don’t have the guts to use their real names, just make me want to overhaul our commitment to the non-intervention policy of these comment boards

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  9. Onan the ambidextrous says:

    Not your best but a good piece, nevertheless. Nice punch line, except the bankers don’t run much risk of punishment, even when they fuck up most egregiously.

    (By the way, I only recently got to your “Mnemonic Calories,” and that really was a brilliant piece of writing. Made me quite envious. It prompted me to read Dostoevsky’s “Notes From The Underground.” Right up my squalid alley. A lesson in transgressive honesty all the way from 1864.)

    Suggestion: How about a piece analysing the bizarre behaviour of the Mahala hate brigade? Maybe you could refer to some of Antonio Gramsci’s ideas, or Dawkins’ memetics to explain their aversion to change, and their inability to break away from failed ideologies and paradigms that are no longer relevant?

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  10. cnut says:

    @Hoogaasta… coffee-spitting moment that post… hilarious!

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  11. Hoogasta says:

    Cnut, thanks for the compliment, but I kind of hate you. Your comments on this forum are seriously unproductive, much like mine. Just projectin’.

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  12. cnut says:

    I’d have it no other way…

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  13. mufasa says:

    Edmonds, I want to ask you a genuine question – what did you want all these metaphors to actually accomplish? It seems like all this “body as commodity” stuff just really distracts from a very simple argument you’re making – poor economic conditions force people to do demeaning, dangerous jobs like drug trafficking. You could have used prostitution too.

    But, what does this add to the discourse that we didn’t already know? Cashiers didn’t grow up as kids dreaming of being cashiers. There’s a sliding scale of shit jobs in the world and a deeply unequal social system means “desperate times, desperate measures” for the poorer, discarded folk of the world.

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  14. Tim says:

    I like being a prostitute 🙂

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  15. Yellow says:

    I quite enjoyed that…. Like a cup of tea… @Onan the ambidextrous I agree about “Mnemonic Calories”… Brilliant piece!!!

    Mahala has a lot of relevant topics and brilliant writers… So if they are arrogant at times in certain pieces I think it’s because it is deserved for keeping as enthusiasts on edge.

    @Futomaki But really enjoyed your comment….

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  16. brandon says:

    Okay I’m drinking Vodka tonics. This is probably going to be a career-shredding over-share but what the hell. You’re right @mufasa. I’m not being honest. This piece is a tissue of intellectualized nonsense. Tricky and self-conscious and pointless. I promise to write stuff that matters to me from now on. What happens is you start writing for money and it becomes formulaic. You begin to drift away from your core. The reason you started writing in the first place. Which is to lessen the bullshit in the world and tell the truth. But that gets blurred somehow and lost and you end up falling back on the stuff that’s got you to the finish line before. In my case, dated sub-Marxist rhetoric from culture studies seminars in the 1990s. It’s embarrassing. God this really piles on the pressure for the next one. Here’s hoping…

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  17. mufasa says:

    Edmonds, the guy who kakked on your last comment is a dick. That was honest and insightful. Respect, man. You’re a great writer. You just need to get that core back.

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  18. Anonymous says:

    Edmonds, great comment.

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  19. lin sampson says:

    i think it is a brilliant piece. the whole point in writing is to trick the reader, who cares if you are being dishonest. you saw those pickings, the madness of the thai official picking through the braids, you are a great writer and should write a book and be paid millions

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  20. brandon says:

    Thanks Lin. Means a lot coming from you.

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  21. Sarah_j_fell says:

    I agree with Lin – some great potential here (perhaps even of the deLillo calibre).

    Two bones to pick: You explain too much (although that may have more to do with who you know your reader to be here than your writing). Lines like ‘ A kind of postmodern slave block. A black woman reduced again to her own physicality.’ and ‘It really is suggestive. We could fill volumes about the commodification of blackness.’ are far too overt (in my opinion). It makes it either seem as if you presume your reader to be too stupid to pick up on subtext, or as if you are. Neither option is particularly attractive to the reader.

    Also, that intro was disturbingly heavy on parenthesis. Clumsy.

    Hey – if you ever need an editor 😉

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  22. brandon says:

    Oh I miss subtext a lot. Once I was in this tiny clown car filled with like forty clowns, in a Palio, and we just circled the Houses of Parliament. I was like what we are doing here, what’s really going on?

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