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Drug mule Tessa Beetge to be freed

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Tessa Beetge, who has been incarcerated in Brazil for drug trafficking, has been freed. File photo: Mathieu Dasnois

Durban - Cocaine smuggler, Tessa Beetge, who is apparently expected to be released on parole from a Brazilian jail, has forgiven the two people who introduced her to the world of crime as a drug mule.

The former KwaZulu-Natal South Coast woman, once the wife of a policeman, has told the SABC she forgives Sheryl Cwele and her co-accused, Nigerian Frank Nabolisa.

The public broadcaster’s Special Assignment team last week interviewed Beetge in the Brazilian jail where she has been held since being convicted on drug-related charges. She was found with 10kg of cocaine in her luggage at the local airport in 2008.

Special Assignment specialist producer, Frank Ferro, said they had spent eight days in Brazil before a judge gave them the go-ahead to speak to Beetge at the Sao Paulo female prison.

Ferro said: “Presently, she is the longest-serving South African female prisoner at the jail. The fact that she was caught with such a large quantity of drugs has made her life difficult.”

He said the judge allowed them an hour to interview Beetge, on their final day in Brazil. A prison warder sat in on the interview.

“Considering the really bad prison conditions, Tessa is doing well. She has put on a lot of weight. She attributes it to stress.”

He said Beetge was concerned about being released on parole, on to the streets of Brazil.

“She wants to serve her time in jail. She prefers it to being sent on to the streets of a foreign country with no money, friends or family.”

Special Assignment said in a media release that Beetge, who is expected to serve the remaining three years of her eight-year sentence in Brazil on parole, felt she had to forgive, so she could move on with her life.

She also speaks about the regret she has for not being there for her two daughters, and laments the fact that her mother, who died recently, was never able to forgive Cwele for what she had done to the family.

She said Cwele, the former wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, had recently asked her mother, Marie Swanepoel, for her forgiveness.

Beetge’s former husband, Jan Beetge, said in an interview that she (Tessa) had met Cwele in a coffee shop in 2008.

Tessa’s father, Swanee Swanepoel, and her two daughters were with Tessa at the meeting, but the girls were too young to understand what the meeting was about, he said.

The couple had divorced in 2003 and Jan has had custody of their daughters since.

He said he doubted his daughters would visit Beetge in Brazil once she was released on parole, as they did not have the funds.

The Port Shepstone policeman said Beetge had moved to Pongola to live with her sister, Zelda Smit, after their divorce and did not have much contact with their daughters.

Even when he was shot on duty in 2004, Beetge did not see much of them, he said.

Jan, who remarried in 2006, said Beetge had moved back to Margate to live with her parents that year. She had worked at a bakery and then at a carpet shop owned by her aunt.

He said he and his second wife had always been open and truthful with his daughters regarding their mother’s involvement in drugs.

Jan said they would be watching the Special Assignment programme.

Beetge’s aunt, Margie Olsen, said she would also be watching. She said she had not known that Beetge would be eligible for parole.

According to the programme’s media release, Brazil’s prison authorities said South Africa led the ranking in the numbers of mules arrested for drug trafficking.

While this was a serious problem, South African authorities had shown little interest in combating it as the numbers of mules sent to Brazil continued to increase, they reportedly said.

Brazil has also expressed grave concern at South Africa’s alleged scant interest in signing a prisoner-transfer agreement that would see citizens serving their sentences in South African jails.

The Special Assignment programme, to be broadcast on Sunday, will also investigate the challenges South African drug mules face once on parole - with no documents, money or a place to stay.

 

It will investigate the plight of thousands of South African drug mules used as decoys to facilitate the trafficking of drugs in Brazil, while others are used as cocaine couriers for global drug syndicates.

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