Sheryl Cwele, the wife of the state security minister, and her Nigerian co-accused Frank Nabolisa have been sentenced to 12 years for drug dealing by the Pietermaritzburg High Court. The pair will appeal their convictions.
The minister’s spokesman, Brian Dube, declined to comment on the matter yesterday, asking why the minister should have to react to his wife’s conviction. Asked how a minister in his position could not have been aware of his wife’s illegal activities, Dube again replied with a “no comment”.
Delivering the sentence this morning, Judge Piet Koen described their offence as very serious, saying that many lives were destroyed by drugs, the Mail & Guardian newspaper reports. “Many families are affected by drugs which are brought here illegally. They suffer as a result of dealers who often initiate addiction by constant supply and thrive on that addiction.” Koen said he had considered the fact that the two were first offenders and that they had good prospects of being rehabilitated. The minimum sentence suitable for the offence they committed was 15 years, the court heard.
The duo had pleaded not guilty of dealing or conspiring to deal in drugs, procuring a woman, Charmaine Moss, to collect drugs in Turkey, and procuring another woman, Tessa Beetge, to smuggle cocaine from South America. Koen on Thursday found Cwele’s defence – that she was merely helping Nabolisa to recruit “white women to front his company in Johannesburg” – implausible, the M&G added.
Koen said that it was “highly improbable” that Cwele would have recruited women with minimal education [in Beetge’s case, grade 10] for short-term work of about two weeks with high remuneration [about R25 000 a time] – to “front companies” and act as “directors”, as Cwele had insisted – without knowing something illegal was happening. He also questioned why Cwele and Nabolisa would “recruit [Moss] just to deliver a parcel [from Turkey] when courier services operated worldwide at competitive rates”.
After judgement was handed down on Thursday Beetge’s mother, Marie Swanepoel, who has waged a long, hard battle for the case to get to court, said: “I’m still shaking from the judgement. I’m very, very glad, though. I’m calling Tessa tomorrow to tell her the good news.”
The outcome of the trial hung heavily on the state’s submission of intercepted SMSes and phone calls between Nabolisa and Beetge, and Nabolisa and Cwele. This, state prosecutor Ian Cooke contended, completed the picture of the collusion among Cwele, Nabolisa and Beetge in alleged preparation for and during the latter’s 2008 drug run to South America.
The defence counsel for both accused had separately attacked the veracity of the transcripts during the trial, suggesting that the procedures and functionality of the equipment used to record and transcribe the communications could not be authenticated.
The state tried to firm up its case by having it reopened so that expert witnesses could testify on these issues. Its urgent application was dismissed by Koen, who concurred with the defence’s objection that it was “obstinate”. Koen, in a ruling critical of the state’s ineptitude, stated: “There is no indication that the two witnesses [which the prosecution sought to introduce] were not available at the time when the evidence was being advanced in court. There is no satisfactory explanation advanced as to why they were not called at the time.”
Opposition parties are calling on Cwele to resign immediately – or to be fired.
“We congratulate the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] on a job well done. This ruling does not only send out a clear message that our criminal justice system is sound and independent, but the ruling speaks to South Africa’s commitment to root out all forms of crime, especially organised crime,” said Inkatha Freedom Party spokesman on crime, Velaphi Ndlovu in a statement.
“Furthermore, we call on Minister Cwele to resign his post as Minister of State Security as his integrity has been severely tainted by his wife’s conviction. This is yet another embarrassing blow to the credibility of the South African government.” Ndlovu hailed the guilty verdict as a victory for South Africa’s fight against organised crime, the South African Press Association added.
The African Christian Democratic Party urged President Jacob Zuma to fire Cwele who it charged had failed in his duty to protect the country from drug trafficking. “It is incomprehensible that the State Security Minister can have an alleged drug trafficker in his house without him being aware of it. How can such a person be aware of drug trafficking in his community and the country if he cannot detect one in his own house?
The ACDP believes “Cwele has failed the state by failing to uncover drug trafficking happening under his nose,” said ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe in a statement. He said the fact that there were children as young as ten-years-old who were hooked on drugs highlighted the “crisis” the country faced. The minister had failed the country and particularly its children and should therefore be removed from office.