Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele (pictured) has been embarrassed by the arrest of his wife on drug dealing charges. Sheryl Cwele was arrested by the Hawks on Friday and remains in police custody.
“Cwele is being charged with dealing in drugs or conspiracy to deal in drugs alongside Frank Nabolisa, a Nigerian national who has been in jail since last year. Nabolisa is linked to a syndicate that attempted to smuggle cocaine to SA as well as being involved in drug manufacturing in Westonaria, Gauteng,” the police’s Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation – known as the “Hawks” said in a statement.
Minister Cwele has denied all knowledge of the affair.
His wife’s arrest at her office at the Hibiscus municipality at Port Shepstone near Durban where she is the director for community services comes several months after an investigation by a local newspaper which linked her to the jailing in Brazil of single mother Tessa Beetge who was found with 9.2kg of cocaine in her luggage. Beetge was arrested in Sao Paulo in June 2008. She is now serving an eight-year jail sentence.
Cwele and Nabolisa are accused of the “procurement or incitement” of Beetge to smuggle the drugs to SA. The are also accused of the same regarding one Charmaine Moss, who they wanted to collect drugs in Turkey. “Moss who claims that Cwele recruited her, is now the state’s main witness,” the police say.
The duo face a third charge of dealing or conspiracy to deal in drugs. Th two will again appear in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Friday to apply for bail, which prosecutors say they will oppose.
The opposition Democratic Alliance has demanded that Minister Cwele appear before Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence (JSCI) and consider his position. Referring to the arrest party intelligence spokesman Theo Coetzee said: “This is disturbing news and raises a number of serious questions regarding the Minister. These include whether he was in any way involved in these alleged offences, and whether he has received any information from his wife that could compromise his role as minister…
“He reportedly told journalists [this weekend] that he knew nothing of the issue; this is difficult to believe in light of the fact that his wife relayed in the Mercury [newspaper] how this ordeal had affected her entire family. In March last year, the Pretoria News reported that the incumbent chairperson of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, Cecil Burgess, had said that the ‘The minister … has denied that his wife is involved.’
“Given that the ANC [African National Congress] government’s position on this matter previously rested on the claim that allegations against the Cwele family were false, this arrest must necessarily cast new doubts on the Minister’s position. We believe that he must demonstrate to the South African public that he is in no way compromised by this matter; if he fails to do so, he ought to stand down from his position right away,” Coetzee added.
The Congress of the People that broke away from the ANC in 2008 said “Cwele might have used her husband’s position to gather intelligence to cover up her nefarious activities”. Party spokesman Philip Dexter said state “security has been compromised, and we expect (President Jacob) Zuma and the cabinet to show some leadership and fire the minister, not to keep silent.”
But political analysts yesterday said Cwele should not be criticised for something his wife has been accused of doing.
Analyst Harald Pakendorf told 702 Talkradio the minister is not obliged to step down: “In law, there is nothing that says the minister is obliged to step back or in any way be held responsible for anything his wife did or didn’t do.”
The Centre for the Study of Democracy’s Steven Friedman said it cannot be assumed that Cwele is responsible or involved in his wife’s actions. “Unless there is evidence that that minister himself is somehow implicated in the issue, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that a politician is responsible for the alleged action of somebody they happen to be married to,” said Friedman.
Meanwhile, the Independent news group reports Zuma’s office has declined to comment while saga, while the ANC said it would not comment on the personal affairs of anyone related to Cwele.
The arrest of a cabinet minister’s wife for alleged drug trafficking did not affect the governing party at all, it said.
JCSI chairman Cecil Burgess said on Sunday the minister is a man of “integrity” and “an asset to the country”. He added there “is no suspicion or any suggestion that he was involved in his wife’s (alleged) activities. There is no reason he should step down. The police are investigating the case and if he had done something, we would have known about it.”