Shani Krebs - settling into home.

Matshidiso Madia Matshidiso Madia

Shani Krebs’ homecoming was a whirlwind.

On 28 April 2012, Shani Krebs landed on South African soil after spending nearly two decades in a Thai prison. His welcome party at O.R Tambo International Airport was made up of family, friends, supporters, the media and many curious onlookers. His family never thought they’d see him home again.

Shani Krebs posing for a picture with his family and friends at O R Tambo 

Krebs returned with a unique story, a second chance at life and a renewed sense of purpose. He was convicted of attempting to smuggle 2.7 kilograms of heroin out of Thailand on 26 April 1994, a day before the dawn of democracy in South Africa. After a series of official pardons from Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Krebs found his way back to the arms of his beloved family.

Almost six months later, he’s working with schools and rehabilitation centres in the war against drugs.
EWN caught up with Krebs at Houghton Primary, as he paced around before greeting learners, eagerly waiting to hear his story. When he finally addresses the youngsters he’s frank, doesn’t spare the gory details of his time in prison and difficulty in trying to integrate into a society that’s advanced greatly in his absence. “If my story can touch at least one of the pupils here, then I’m happy,” he says.

Shani at Hougton Primary  

In his words, it all began when he started mixing with the wrong crowds. It’s through his friends that he first tried marijuana. He then moved deeper into the drug world, where he experimented with substances such as cocaine and LSD.

The details of his arrest were not up for discussion with the media when he first arrived in the country but now he happily chats to enquiring learners who are fascinated by his arrest, days in jail and the lessons he’s learnt along the way.

Krebs tells the story of how he was approached by a man and asked to smuggle drugs out of Thailand. During the exchange, intuition kicked in, “Something didn’t feel right and after I received the small leather bag containing the heroin, I called a friend in South Africa who said I was just being paranoid.”

The next day, Krebs got into a taxi. He later found out he was being driven by an undercover policeman and eventually found himself surrounded by a swat team at the airport.

The days following the bust were characterised by shackles, being spoken to in a language he couldn’t understand, living in tiny cells with hundreds of prisoners, a lack of proper facilities, no water, inedible food, an open sewerage system and the constant sound of inmates being raped. “It was like a bad dream. I kept thinking this is a nightmare. I couldn’t come to terms with what was going on around me.”  

It’s also in prison where Krebs decided to change his life. He gave up drugs and focused more on his art. It’s these changes he’s brought home, but he’s still battling to settle into family life.

The Krebs family

His sister Joan Sacks says, “He’s changed so much. It’s like having a stranger living here.” Sacks says they’ve had arguments over wasted food, the running of bath water and how loudly people speak. The entire family also seems to have found a new appreciation for life through Krebs’ uncomplicated way of living.

Despite the fact that Krebs sees himself as an outsider looking in because of the challenges he constantly faces trying to integrate, he says he can’t help but marvel at how South Africans are living with each other. He left this country before racial integration became a normal way of life.

These days Krebs gets his highs from simple things such as being able to drive and knowing he can make some difference in today’s society.