Drug dealer Sheryl Cwele has three days to report to Westville Prison – or face being arrested – after her appeal was dismissed on Monday – and her sentence increased by eight years.
The Supreme Court of Appeal, felt that the 12-year sentence imposed on Cwele, the former wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, and her co-accused Frank Nabolisa, was “disturbingly inappropriate” and replaced it with a 20-year term, for which the State had argued.
The pair were convicted last year by Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Piet Koen, who found they had recruited two women, Tessa Beetge and Charmaine Moss, to smuggle cocaine into South Africa.
Speaking after the judgment, co-counsel for the State, advocate Adelaide Watt, said they were “absolutely elated”.
“We were fighting for justice and this judgment makes our job feel fulfilled. It was a very good judgment,” she said.
Watt confirmed that Cwele’s appeal process has been exhausted.
“She cannot take the matter on appeal to the Constitutional Court, because her case did not deal with any constitutional issues,” she said.
“She has three days after the judgment to report to Westville Prison and if she doesn’t, a warrant for her arrest would be issued, but I don’t think it will come to that.”
Cwele, who is out on R100 000 bail, had appealed against her conviction, while Nabolisa, who has been in custody, appealed against both his conviction and sentence.
Appeal Court Judge President Lex Mpati felt that Nabolisa’s appeal against his conviction should fail as Beetge was sent to South America by Nabolisa to collect cocaine and to bring it back to South Africa. “That is the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the totality of the proved facts,” his judgment read.
He said the same applied to Cwele’s appeal as she recruited Beetge and worked closely with Nabolisa in arranging Beetge’s return trip to SA. “She even assured Tessa that the delay in her travel arrangements was for her own good, an indication, in my view, that she had knowledge of the dangers associated with the trip.
“She knew that Tessa was required to bring back something which it is unlawful to possess. Tessa was thereafter arrested with cocaine in her possession. The inference is irresistible, therefore, that Sheryl knew that the unlawful substance that Tessa was required to bring back was, in fact, cocaine.”
On sentencing, Mpati said the provisions of minimum sentence legislation would apply in this case as the total street value of the cocaine was about R2 million.
Further, he found that an agreement existed between Cwele and Nabolisa to use other people to travel overseas and to bring cocaine back into the country.
“The recruiting of Tessa was in furtherance of a common purpose to import cocaine into the country.”
The State had argued that there was nothing extraordinary about Cwele that called for a lesser sentence and that there were several aggravating circumstances that the trial court had overlooked.
These were that:
- Cwele would have learnt during her studies towards a nursing qualification of the dangers associated with hard drugs.
- She put up a false version and shied away from cross-examination; and
- She had shown no remorse.
The State had also argued that the court should have considered that Cwele abused her job in the Hibiscus Coast municipality by using her work telephone and other resources in the crime.
Mpati agreed with the State. “As a qualified nurse, she must have known of 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 criminal enterprise,” he said. “I consider that the trial court was correct in treating the appellants equally.”
The DA applauded the increased sentences. “In our view, the SCA’s judgment sends out two important messages. The first is that the courts are getting tough with drug dealers,” James Selfe, the DA’s spokesman on correctional services, said in a statement.
Selfe said it also showed that no-one was above the law, however well-connected they might be. - Daily News