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S. African minister’s wife gets 12 years for drug running

Sheryl Cwele, the wife of South Africa’s intelligence minister, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Friday for drug trafficking after being convicted of hiring young women as mules.

Cwele’s Nigerian co-accused, Frank Nabolisa, was also jailed for 12 years at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.

“Many families are affected by drugs which are brought here illegally. They suffer as a result of dealers who often initiate addiction by constant supply and thrive on that addiction,” Judge Piet Koen was quoted as saying by the Sapa news agency as he handed down the sentence.

Cwele and Nabolisa were convicted on Thursday. They said they plan to appeal the sentence.

The pair escaped possible sentences of 15 years.

Cwele’s husband, Intelligence Minister Siyabonga Cwele, said through his spokesman he would not comment on the matter until after the appeal.

“Any comment will be premature given the fact that the matter is still subject to a court process,” said spokesman Brian Dube.

The national prosecuting authority welcomed the sentence, saying it was “appropriate and fitted the crime”.

Cwele’s lawyers argued she had been manipulated by Nabolisa and stressed that she did not physically handle the drugs.

Allegations of Cwele’s drug trafficking surfaced in 2009 after the arrest of Tessa Beetge, a South African woman caught in Brazil with 10 kilogrammes of cocaine worth almost $300,000 (202,000 euros).

Beetge’s parents told a South African newspaper that Cwele, a former neighbour, had arranged their daughter’s trip to Brazil after offering her a job overseas.

Beetge is currently serving a jail sentence in Sao Paulo.

Cwele, a municipal director of health and community services, had been out on 100,000 rand ($15,000/10,200 euros) bail since her arrest a year ago.

Her lawyers said she met Nabolisa through an acquaintance and agreed to help him recruit two white people to work for his company.

The minister, who was appointed by President Jacob Zuma in 2009, had appeared in court during her bail hearing but was not present for the verdict or sentencing.

Opposition parties hailed the sentence and intensified calls for Cwele’s husband to resign.

“His integrity has been severely tainted by his wife’s conviction,” Inkatha Freedom Party spokesman Velaphi Ndlovu said in a statement.

“This is yet another embarrassing blow to the credibility of the South African government.”

The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) said the case undermined the minister’s intelligence credentials.

“It is incomprehensible that the state security minister can have an alleged drug trafficker in his house without him being aware of it,” said party leader Kenneth Meshoe.

“The ACDP believes State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele has failed the state by failing to uncover drug trafficking happening under his nose.”

The conviction is the latest stain on South Africa’s security services, after the police’s crime intelligence chief, Richard Mdluli, was arrested in March over the 1999 murder of a fellow officer who was reportedly his rival in a love triangle.