The prison sentences of Sheryl Cwele and her co-accused, were increased to 20 years by the Supreme Court of Appeal on Monday.
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, the former wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, and Nabolisa, a Nigerian national, faced one count of dealing in dangerous dependence-creating drugs or conspiring to do so, and two counts of incitement to dealing in dangerous dependence-creating drugs. The latter related to allegedly recruiting Tessa Beetge, who is serving an almost eight-year prison sentence in Brazil and Charmaine Moss, another state witness, to traffic cocaine.
"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 (50) appealed to the SCA against her conviction only, while Nabolisa appealed both his conviction and sentence.
Both pleaded not guilty.
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.
Brought to book
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.
The court set aside the sentences imposed by the trial court and replaced them with a sentence of 20 years' imprisonment for each of them.
Cwele was fired from her position as head of health services in the municipality by the Hibiscus Coast Municipality in August last year, after she was sentenced. The disciplinary hearing against her began in June 2011 and the committee ruled against her in July 2011.– Sapa