Family trips show a very married Mr and Mrs Cwele
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and his wife, Sheryl, with their four children, enjoyed a two-week Christmas holiday at three luxury resorts in Mozambique last year —contradicting claims that he and his wife are estranged.
A Mail & Guardian investigation also established that Cwele paid his wife’s bail in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg last week and that, in the company of their children, he was present at her baptism in Margate last year.
The M&G also learned that Sheryl is living in a house in Port Shepstone, in her and her husband’s name, which has been undergoing extensive renovations. Neighbours said the minister was in the practice of visiting the site regularly to check how work is progressing.
‘We are not estranged’
Contacted by cellphone this week, Sheryl said media reports citing ‘intelligence sources and ANC members” that she and her husband are estranged are ‘not true. We are not estranged and we’re living together.
But I cannot say anything more, as my lawyer has instructed me not to speak to the press.”
Colleagues interviewed at Sheryl’s KwaZulu-Natal workplace said they considered the couple happily married.
Following Sheryl’s sensational arrest on international drug-trafficking charges two weeks ago, intelligence and police sources have insisted that the minister has been estranged from his 49-year-old wife for five years.
The claim appears to have been designed to suggest that Cwele knew nothing of his wife’s alleged trafficking and that his sensitive portfolio could not have been compromised.
The M&G has established that the Cweles took their children, who range in age from 15 to 24, on an eight-day holiday to Mozambique from December 21 to 28 last year. No bodyguards accompanied them.
Their first stop was Matemo Island Resort, on the Quirimbas Archipelago, where they booked in as husband and wife in a luxury double-room chalet, also taking two twin-room chalets.
From Matemo they moved to the Pemba Beach Hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean. Again they booked into a double room with two twin rooms.
The family stayed in Maputo for the first and last nights of their holiday, at the four-star Girassol Indy Village. They booked into the VIP three-bedroom house at the hotel.
At a closed meeting in Parliament this week ANC members of the joint standing committee on intelligence ‘virtually laughed off” a request by the Democratic Alliance for the state security minister to appear before the committee to explain whether he had been compromised by his wife’s arrest, said Theo Coetzee, the DA’s shadow state security minister.
The committee is still considering his formal request.
Significant for security
Coetzee said the question of whether the minister is still living with his wife is of great significance for South Africa’s security. He found it hard to believe that Cwele passed the vetting process for his Cabinet post with such a cloud hanging over his wife’s head.
‘The minister should demonstrate to the South African public that he is in no way compromised by this matter,” said Coetzee. ‘If he fails to do so, he ought to stand down from his post right away.”
President Jacob Zuma appointed Cwele to Cabinet in May last year, 11 months after 32-year-old drug mule Tessa Beetge was arrested in Brazil. Sheryl has been charged with
co-accused Nigerian Frank Nabolis of conspiring to import cocaine into South Africa and recruiting young women, including Beetge, on the pretext of arranging short-term jobs for them overseas.
Beetge implicated both Cwele and Nabolis in the drug-smuggling saga immediately after her arrest in São Paulo, en route home to Johannesburg. The minister has declined to comment on the state of his marriage or the drug-trafficking case against his wife.
He and the four Cwele children were present in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg for Sheryl’s bail application last week and it was reported that he left the courtroom without greeting her.
But the M&G has established that the minister had 15 minutes to rush to the bank to withdraw the R100 000 to secure his wife’s bail. The Sunday Tribune reported that the minister was then seen rushing back to court clutching an Absa bank bag.
The Cweles were allegedly separated for about 18 months between 1997 and 1999, but are understood to have been reconciled and will celebrate 25 years of marriage in September this year.
When his wife was baptised at the Margate Baptist Church last year, the minister and their children attended, sources said.
Sheryl’s work colleagues in KwaZulu-Natal’s Hibiscus Coast municipality said they considered the couple happily married, adding that they had been told the minister commuted from the Cwele family home in Port Shepstone because of his high-profile job.
The minister often visited her offices, they said, where she has returned to work as director of health and community services. Colleagues described the former nurse as a ‘lovely boss”, saying they were heartbroken by her arrest.
‘Sheryl said they had just moved into a house in Port Shepstone, which they had renovated.
‘She said she had been staying in a flat during the renovation,” said a colleague. ‘We just knew her husband travelled a lot. Sheryl said the whole family was spending Christmas together in Mozambique.”
During a visit this week the M&G established that Sheryl lives in a house in Port Shepstone’s Berea Road, which appears to be still undergoing renovation.
Neighbours said the house, co-owned by the Cweles, had undergone noticeable external renovations about ‘a year-and-a-half ago” when a white perimeter fence had been built.
‘The minister usually came around once a month on the weekends to check on the builders,” said the neighbour, who added that he knew this because of the noise from the VIP protection unit that usually accompanied him.
The M&G has established that Minister Cwele took a R1-million bond on the house in 2007 for renovations. The house was initially bought in 2000. Sheryl’s landlord at San Guiliana, a townhouse complex in nearby Uvongo, confirmed that Sheryl had moved out at the end of September last year.
Responding to the M&G‘s questions this week, the ministry of state security said: ‘The ministry advises that it stands by its statement issued last week, particularly the reference to no further statements and comments regarding this matter.”
Minister not under investigation
In response to the M&G‘s written questions Hawks spokesperson Musa Zondi said the elite crime-busting unit was not investigating the minister. ‘There is no need to investigate the minister. We are satisfied that this issue relates to Mrs Cwele and her alone.
‘It has been widely reported that the minister and Mrs Cwele had been estranged for at least five years now (Sowetan, February 3 2010, Page 2).”
The minister’s continued silence meant his wife ran the risk of being denied bail.
The state argued in court that Sheryl was a flight risk as she has four identity documents and three valid passports and is deep in debt.
Investigating officer Superintendent Izak Johannes Ludick said Sheryl had withheld from the state information that she was estranged from her husband, even though she had claimed in court that she had enjoyed a family Christmas holiday in Mozambique.