Cwele begins her stint behind bars

2012-10-05 00:00

“I have nothing to say ... I don’t even want to see you,” Sheryl Cwele tearfully told The Witness yesterday while seated in the registrar’s office at the high court shortly before she was escorted to the cells to start serving her 20-year jail term yesterday.

Cwele, accompanied by her attorney, Madoda Nxumalo, as well as a man said to be her brother, earlier managed to give the media the slip by entering the Pietermaritzburg high court building via a rear entrance.

She also took journalists by surprise by surrendering herself sooner rather than later by arriving at the office of high court registrar Ronel Jooste at 8.20 am yesterday.

In terms of her bail conditions, Cwele had until 1 pm to report to the registrar after the Supreme Court of Appeals on Monday confirmed her conviction for dealing in cocaine and increased her sentence from 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment.

When Jooste told Cwele the press were there, she immediately responded: “No, I don’t want to talk to them”.

A short while later, she had no option but to brave the glare of the cameras as she crossed the high court foyer with the waiting paparazzi in hot pursuit, and was escorted downstairs to the court cells.

Anxious to catch a final glimpse of her departing for Westville prison by police van, the media gathered in the parking lot outside the cells.

Police tried their best to shield their notorious charge from more publicity by reversing the police van as close to the stairs as possible. Cwele clambered inside and the van sped away.

Despite her tear-filled eyes hidden behind her glasses, Cwele appeared to have taken some trouble with her hairstyle, make-up and dress in keeping with her usual style.

She wore a knee-length black dress, purple high heeled shoes and a lightweight white floral jacket on arrival at court.

Apparently, she’d also given some thought to her future needs because by the time she climbed into the police van to set off for prison, she’d changed her high heels for flat silver sandals.

On arrival at Westville shortly before 11 am, the van was met by a dozen armed prison officials with dogs. They immediately surrounded the vehicle.

Cwele could be seen seated in the shadows, alone in the back of the van.

A senior official was on hand to facilitate the former minister’s wife’s entry to jail.

Cwele’s last glimpse of freedom would have been the green trees and bush along the road leading to Westville prison, which is on top of a hill, a mere stone’s throw from the Pavilion shopping centre.

Correctional Services confirmed that she would undergo a routine medical examination and was to spend last night in the prison hospital.

Today, she will join 383 other inmates wearing blue prison uniforms in the women’s section of the prison.

Although Cwele’s attorney told the media he was not mandated by his client to discuss her future plans, he indicated at one point that they were considering “some options”.

Legal sources have suggested that Cwele might try to win a reduction of her sentence to the original 12 years’ imprisonment imposed by KZN high court judge Pete Koen, by appealing to the Constitutional Court.

This follows a Constitutional Court ruling also delivered this week in the case of Jacobus Bogaards, which ruled that fairness demands that formal notice be given to an accused person if an appeal court is thinking of increasing a sentence.

In the present case, Cwele did not lodge an appeal with the SCA against her sentence, only against her conviction.

State advocate Ian Cooke thereafter gave notice of the state’s intention to ask the SCA to increase the sentence to 15 years’ imprisonment, and then to 20 years, based on the sentence deemed appropriate in a similar drug-related case.

The SCA agreed that 20 years was a just sentence for Cwele’s crimes and that the original sentence of 12 years was “disturbingly inappropriate”.

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