God, race and drugs


The trial had the makings of a Hollywood thriller: religion, drugs, bling, working-class whites and SA’s black elite.

Sheryl Cwele, wife of state security minister Siyabonga Cwele, and her Nigerian sidekick, Frank Nabolisa, were recently convicted of trafficking cocaine and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

When Judge Piet Koen delivered his verdict in the Pietermaritzburg High Court Sheryl sat stonyfaced and alone.

Suddenly she was a far cry from the confident, well-dressed woman she had been in earlier hearings.

Her mother, who’d almost constantly been by her side, took her hand and said a prayer.

Religion was often evident during the trial and seemed to be a connection between Sheryl and two women she was accused of recruiting to traffic cocaine, Tessa Beetge and Charmaine Moss.

The recruitment charges were dismissed but Sheryl was convicted of trafficking, largely as a result of intercepted cellphone calls and SMSes linking Nabolisa and Sheryl to Tessa, a ‘‘mule’’ serving eight years for drug-trafficking in a Brazilian jail.

The trial also highlighted how SA has been caught up in international drug trafficking – and how white women from resort towns along KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast – usually unemployed and desperate for money – are lured into becoming drug carriers.

Aftyer Sheryl’s arrest the media was told she and her husband had been estranged for five years but reporters’ investigations showed that to be a lie. Sheryl eventually admitted they were living together.

Whatever the truth, the trial lifted the lid on the murky world that connects – through drugs, religion and unemployment – SA’s new black elite and the white working class.

Read all about it in YOU, 19 May 2011. CLICK HERE to follow YOU on Twitter.

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