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Tessa Beetge, the South Coast woman who has spent the past five years in jail on a drugs conviction in Brazil, is “absolutely inconsolable” at the news that her mother – her “greatest champion and best friend” – died of organ failure in an East London hospital on Thursday.
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune in the wake of Marie Swanepoel’s death, her sister, Margie Olsen, said the family would never forgive Sheryl Cwele, the former wife of Minister of State Security Siyabonga Cwele for the suffering she caused after persuading Beetge to act as a drug mule on her behalf.
“We all believe that if Tessa had never met that woman and Marie had not been forced to endure such terrible emotional suffering, she would still be with us today,” she said.
Swanepoel died before she could succeed in her bid to get her daughter’s sentence reduced and see her come home.
Beetge was caught at São Paulo airport with more than 10kg of cocaine in her luggage in 2008. Originally sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, the sentence was commuted to eight years for good behaviour.
Swanepoel recently told the Tribune that the Brazilian judiciary originally indicated that they would consider reducing Beetge’s sentence further if Cwele and her co-accused, Nigerian Frank Nabolisa, got lengthy jail terms. The two are serving 12 years each.
“We have been given strong indications that they mean to honour their word,” said Olsen.
“Marie lived in the hope of seeing Tessie again. Her unshakeable faith and love for her daughter was what kept her going during these terrible years. But I will finish the work she started, and I will be here to take Tessie in my arms when she finally comes home. It is all I can do now for my precious sister.”
Asked to describe the single-handed campaign Swanepoel had waged to get Cwele and Nabolisa tried and convicted for their role in recruiting Beetge to traffic drugs, Olsen said: “Marie was phenomenal. I was, and remain, in awe of the courage and determination it took to do what she believed was right for her daughter. She suffered so much but she never considered giving up.”
Swanepoel had divorced her husband, Swanee, in the past year, and left her South Coast home to live with Olsen in Steynsburg in the Eastern Cape.
“She was physically quite frail, which was understandable after everything she had been through, but she was full of hope.
“Since March, Marie had suffered severe back pain from an old injury, and then last Friday she came down with an acute infection. She was taken to the nearest hospital where they found the lining of her stomach had been perforated. Then her condition deteriorated, and organ failure set in.
“Her other daughters, Brenda and Zelda, were on a flight from their home in Australia when she passed away.”
Olsen said the family’s suffering was added to by their inability to communicate with Tessa, who is only allowed two calls a year – on her birthday on May 9, and Christmas Day. But consular officials had broken the news of her mother’s death to her.
“They said she took it very, very badly. Tessie doesn’t even have a picture of her mom, because prison officials have confiscated her photographs.,” Olsen said.
The family will announce funeral arrangements for Swanepoel when they receive her remains.