20 years for Cwele? - Wow!

2012-10-02 00:00

“TWENTY years behind bars for Sheryl [Cwele]? Wow!”

This was how the mother of the drug mule languishing in a Brazilian jail reacted to the news that the sentence of convicted drug dealer and ex-wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele was increased to 20 years yesterday.

Cwele and Frank Nabolisa were found guilty of drug dealing by the Pietermaritzburg High Court and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment each in May last year.

They appealed, but the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) was not amused, instead increasing the sentences for both Cwele and Nabolisa by eight years to 20 years.

For Marie Swanepoel, the battle is won but the war is far from over as she says she won’t rest until her daughter, Tessa Beetge, is back in South Africa.

She says she will continue her struggle to have her sentence reduced.

Beetge, who has been in a Brazilian jail for smuggling cocaine since June 2008, has less than four years left on her sentence.

“We want Tessie back home and we will not stop until it’s done,” Swanepoel, who lives in Margate, told The Witness.

“I e-mailed Foreign Affairs four years ago and they replied that if Sheryl or Frank were found guilty, they [the Brazilians] would reduce Tessie’s sentence. It has happened so I’m going to converse with them on the matter,” she said.

Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesperson Clayson Monyela said that contrary to the Swane­poels’ perceptions, the department could never become involved in legal matters relating to a conviction and sentence in a foreign country.

Swanepoel said she had also e-mailed the president of Brazil, asking for a reduced sentence, and had received a reply acknowledging receipt of her correspondence.

The SCA judgment acknowledged Swanepoel’s determination.

“In most cases the courier or ‘mule’ is caught, while the handler [the drug dealer or importer] remains safe in the background, to carry on with his/her evil deeds,” it read. “In the present matter, it was only through the courage and determination of Tessa’s mother that the real culprits have been brought to book.”

Swanepoel said that getting Cwele and Nabolisa to face justice had been a long and hard battle.

Cwele was director of health services at the Hibiscus Coast Municipality.

After hearing what the court’s judgment said about her courage, Swanepoel said: “Why should I let them [Nabolisa and Cwele] take away anything from me that doesn’t belong to them without a fight?”

Swanepoel commended state advocate Ian Cooke, saying that he handled the case “absolutely brilliantly” and went out of his way to make sure that justice was served.

“There were a lot of negative comments because Sheryl was involved in government. Nobody thought she would go to jail. Even if she didn’t, I knew that one day she would have to answer to a greater judge.”

Looking fondly at a photograph of Beetge, Swanepoel said she had last spoken to her daughter in May and planned to phone her yesterday to tell her the news, although she was only allowed to call in December again.

“My birthday was in September. I got a card from Tessie with the most heartfelt words. I miss her so much,” she said.

She said Beetge’s daughters, aged 13 and 16, missed their mother dearly.

“They understand a lot more than they did four years ago and it’s been difficult for them. They still have teary moments when we speak of their mom,” said Swanepoel.

Tessa’s father, Swannie, said there were many parents in the same situation who had contacted him after Beetge’s story first broke.

“They were all glad that Marie and I spoke up. Some parents told me they were too ashamed of what others may think so they decided to keep quiet instead of getting help,” he said, adding that remaining silent only made situations worse.

“I fought for my daughter and stood up against anyone who had anything negative to say. They cannot judge Tessa,” he said.

The Democratic Alliance said it applauded the increased sentences.

The party’s shadow minister of correctional services, James Selfe, said it would counter the cynicism many had that politicians and highly-placed people received one form of justice and poor and ordinary people received another.

He said he doubted Cwele would have her jail time reduced like in line with other highly-placed convicts, such as Shabir Shaik, Jackie Selebi and Tony Yengeni.

“I think this case seems to have attracted enough national and international attention, particularly as it’s linked to a sentence being served in Brazil,” Selfe said.

“I think there would be an international outcry if some sort of special treatment was reserved for her.”

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