Attending the final stages of the trial of suspected drug dealer Sheryl Cwele and her co-accused, Nigerian Frank Nabolisa, in Ramsgate last week, a frail and emotional Marie Swanepoel, mother of convicted drug smuggler Tessa Beetge, said she could not endure much more suffering.
Beetge was arrested at the São Paulo airport on June 13, 2008, and found to be in possession of more than 10kg of cocaine. She was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment, of which one year has been suspended.
“The agony just goes on and on,” Swanepoel wept. “Since I was woken just after midnight on June 14 by a call from Tessie, saying she had been arrested, every day has been hell. I can only start to get some closure if Sheryl and Frank go to jail for what they have done to my family.”
During the lengthy trial, Swanepoel has lost a significant amount of weight, and aged visibly. She recently moved from her Cape Town home to the South Coast to be closer to her two granddaughters. The school-going girls have been living with their father since their mother’s imprisonment.
“Sheryl has destroyed my daughter’s life, and she is destroying the lives of my grandchildren,” said Swanepoel. “I will never forgive her for the suffering she has inflicted on our family. If the judge sends her and her co-accused to jail for a long time, I pray that it will be a warning to other young women not to be caught by these predators.”
On Wednesday, Cwele’s advocate Mvuseni Ngubane said she was closing her case and would not take the stand to testify in her own defence. This followed her unsuccessful bid to have her case discharged.
The announcement took state advocate Ian Cooke by surprise. He said he would need time to prepare his closing arguments, and Judge Piet Koen accordingly ordered that arguments by the defence and prosecution be presented this Wednesday. He said he would then take a recess of several days to consider his sentencing.
“This case has raised some relatively novel issues. I don’t want to deal with it in a flippant way,” he said.
Speaking of the testimony presented at Ramsgate by Charmaine Moss, a South Coast beauty therapist who had second thoughts about working for Cwele and Nabolisa, Swanepoel said the level of Cwele’s duplicity was “staggering” because she had used religion to draw Beetge and Moss into her web.
“They both trusted her, and she completely betrayed that trust,” she said.
“She even told Charmaine she had had a ‘vision from God’ that she must help her find work. That is wicked. How can you use the Lord’s name for something so evil?”
Swanepoel said although she had clung to her belief in her daughter’s innocence, she was afraid that Beetge might well have known she was to carry drugs on the flight from Brazil to South Africa.
“I have asked to be allowed to see the full transcript of the calls that police intercepted from Sheryl and Frank’s phones. They have promised me I can read them after the trial is over.
“I have an awful feeling they might prove Tessie lied to me. I just don’t know how I will break the news to her daughters if that is the case.”
Beetge was working hard to help pass the time in jail, and earn money to pay for necessities, said her mother.
“She is making the best of things, and tries to be cheerful when she writes to me. She finally got a bed in her cell, after sleeping on the floor for nearly three years. I hope that will help her asthma.”
Showng a photograph sent to her recently, Swanepoel pointed out “my Tessie”. Beetge was pictured in a group shot with nine other women. Six of them are South Africans arrested on charges of drug smuggling.
Attempts to contact Moss met with no success. According to her employer at a South Coast health spa: “She has taken a week’s leave and moved out of her flat. We don’t know how she is taking the strain.”