20-year sentence for Security Minister’s drug-dealing wife

Sheryl Cwele, at the time of her crime the Minister of Security's wife

The prison sentences of Sheryl Cwele — former wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele — and her co-accused were increased to 20 years on Monday.

“The effects of their deeds on the community at large far outweigh their personal circumstances and justify a long term of imprisonment,” the Supreme Court of Appeal concluded.

Cwele and Frank Nabolisa were found guilty in May 2011 of drug dealing by the Pietermaritzburg High Court and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment each.

Cwele, 50, appealed to the SCA against her conviction only, while Nabolisa appealed both his conviction and sentence.

Both pleaded not guilty to conspiring to deal in drugs, to procuring a woman, Charmaine Moss, to collect drugs in Turkey, and to procuring another woman, Tessa Beetge, to smuggle cocaine from South America.

Nabolisa had been in custody until now, while Cwele was out on R100,000 bail.

A full bench in an unanimous judgment, said in many similar cases the drug courier or “mule” got caught, while the handler — the real dealer or importer — remained safe in the background to carry on with his or her evil deeds.

SCA President Lex Mpati said in this case it was only through the courage and determination of Beetge’s mother that the real culprits were brought to book.

The SCA judgment held that Cwele and Nabolisa, by being involved in the drug trade, had reconciled themselves to sowing the seeds of destruction, directly and indirectly, in the lives of a number of people, including children.

The SCA held that Nabolisa sent Beetge to South America to collect cocaine and bring it back to South Africa.

“It is the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the totality of the proved facts,” the judge said.

The SCA found it might well be that Cwele played a lesser role in the whole enterprise, but as a qualified nurse she must have known the dangers inherent in the use of drugs.

“Yet she was a willing partner in the commission of the crime, who befriended and preyed on vulnerable women in furtherance of the criminal enterprise.”

The judge said on the facts the “inference was irresistible (compelling)” that Cwele must have known that Beetge was being asked to ferry cocaine to South Africa.

The SCA held the trial court was correct in treating Cwele and Nabolisa equally. The court dismissed their appeals against their convictions.

It found the 12-year prison sentence imposed on each of them by the trial court disturbingly inappropriate. The high court’s sentences were replaced with a sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment for each of them. – Sapa