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Johannesburg - Tessa Beetge’s mother, Marie Swanepoel, didn’t live to see her free. But now Beetge has turned her back on her own teenage daughters who she last saw five years ago.
Beetge skipped the welcome-home party organised by an aunt, where her children eagerly anticipated being reunited with their mother, in favour of lunch with a new boyfriend.
Margie Olsen, the maternal aunt of drug mule Tessa Beetge, is a broken and bewildered woman.
On Thursday, she stood in the arrivals hall at OR Tambo Airport in Joburg with a bunch of yellow roses and a heart filled with anticipation, waiting to embrace Beetge and tell her how much her mother had loved her, and how hard she had fought for justice on her behalf.
As the arrivals hall emptied, she was given the bitter news that Beetge had left by another exit, in the company of a television crew to whom she is believed to have sold her story.
“Swanee” Swanepoel, Tessa’s father, had been tipped off and left the waiting area to join his daughter. The two, along with Beetge’s new boyfriend, Shane “Skroefie” Heydenrych, another drug mule who returned on the same flight after serving time in Brazil, then reportedly went for lunch at a restaurant.
Olsen believes Beetge has betrayed her children. The girls were 10 and 12 when she went to prison, and are now 15 and 17.
“The girls have had their hearts broken again,” Olsen said.
“I had organised a welcome-home party at the home of relatives in Springs, so that Tessie could spend time away from the media and get to know her children again.
“The girls were so excited. But they waited and she never came. Later someone brought a letter from Tessie. She said: ‘I need to get my life sorted out first, and then I will come and see you.’
“How could she do that to her children, when her own mother lived for her, and destroyed her health in her long struggle to get Frank Nabolisa and Sheryl Cwele locked up for drawing Tessa into drug smuggling? How could any mother do such a thing?”
Beetge maintained her innocence throughout her trial on charges of trafficking more than 10kg of cocaine, and her subsequent prison term in the Penitencia Feminare in Sao Paolo.
However, Olsen said yesterday that Beetge was guilty as charged, and had admitted that to her family.
“When my son, Richard, who was close to Tessie, visited her in jail in Brazil, she confessed she knew there were drugs in that suitcase.”
Olsen said she had learned “the most bitter lesson of my life” when Beetge left her standing in the arrivals hall, “looking like a fool in front of hundreds of members of the press”.
She said she had been ready to help Beetge in any way she could, “but now my heart is closed to her. If she wants her mother’s personal possessions, I will pack them up, and she can pay to have them brought to her in Joburg”.
During the lengthy trial of Cwele, the former wife of Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele, and Nigerian Frank Nabolisa, the Sunday Tribune had many conversations with Marie and “Swanee” Swanepoel.
Over the months, Marie, who was of slight build, became increasingly emaciated.
At our last meeting – in October 2012, in Margate, and just before Marie and Swanee divorced after an allegedly unhappy marriage – Marie confided that she no longer believed her daughter’s protestations of innocence.
“It has been the most difficult realisation of my life. I will always love Tessie, but I know she lied to me. She knew there were drugs in that suitcase,” she said, in tears.
Marie died last year from complications caused by a stomach ulcer.
Olsen said before her funeral that she believed the stress of Tessa’s imprisonment and the trial were what really killed her.
Yesterday she said: “Tessa’s former husband is never going to let those girls go back to her. He has said he will sue her for maintenance instead. If she is going to be making money from selling her story, then it is right she makes some contribution to their upbringing. I will get over this, but I don’t know that Tessa’s children ever will.”
Olsen said Beetge was staying with friend and former fellow prisoner Zeka Smit in the poor Joburg suburb of Triomf.
Repeated attempts to get comment from Beetge via Smit, and to get comment from Swanee Swanepoel, were unsuccessful. - Sunday Tribune