Fighting for freedom

2012-10-08 00:00

duncan guy

SOUTH Coast locals know Marie Swane­poel as a quiet person.

She admits that.

“I normally shut up and let anybody else do the talking,” says the woman whose courage and determination helped get drug kingpins Sheryl Cwele and Frank Nabolisa convicted, according to a Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judgment last week.

The two had procured her daughter, Tessa Beetge — the youngest of her three children — to smuggle cocaine from South America.

Beetge is around midway through a sentence of seven years, nine months and 10 days in Sao Paulo.

Swanepoel says her anger with Sheryl Cwele, ex-wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and former director of health at the Hibiscus Coast Municipality, caused her to get outside of her quiet nature.

“She made my hair stand on end,” says Swanepoel, recalling how Cwele had not been in contact, nor returned calls, after Beetge’s arrest, after having sent Beetge overseas on what appeared to be a wonderful work opportunity and life experience. “I would feel better if Sheryl acknowledged what she had done, or picked up the phone and said ‘sorry’.

“But she didn’t. She turned her back on us.”

The 60-year-old grandmother, born and raised on a farm in the then-Rhodesia, takes a draw on her cigarette.

“When something hits the fan, you’re by yourself,” she says.

“That’s a hard pill to swallow.”

Over the past four years, Swanepoel has survived much stress, including neck problems.

“I’ve had to depend on God,”she says.

“He’s carried me through. Some days I wake up and I think I am never going to get through the day. But I get through it.”

Swanepoel credits her sister, Margie Olsen, for helping her in the early days of her ordeal, persuading her to be proactive and encouraging her to go to Brazil during Beetge’s first year of incarceration.

“My nephew came with me,” says Swanepoel.

“I didn’t even know where Sao Paulo was before Tessie was arrested.”

Now she has a telephonic relationship with the prison warders, who call her “Maria” and her daughter “Beachy”, being unfamiliar with a name such as “Beetge”.

She relies on them to pass on messages because she can only speak to her daughter twice a year.

Swanepoel also now knows enough Portuguese to ask to be passed on to someone in the prison who is proficient in English, though sometimes it involves enough waiting to add R72 to her phone bill.

“But one of these days it’s all going to be behind me and I won’t be speaking to anybody in Brazil again.”

Her daughter, now 35, will be writing a book on the experience, she says.

• duncan.guy@witness.co.za

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