sheryl cwele alone in court

SHERYL Cwele cut a lonely figure in the dock this week. She was all alone facing drug smuggling charges that could send her to jail for a very long time.

Her husband, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, was not in court because the couple has been estranged for five years.

When she was arrested on Friday opposition parties demanded that the minister resign. But yesterday the intelligence community dismissed this suggestion, saying that because of the long separation he would not have known about her alleged dealings.

Intelligence sources and ANC members on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast confirmed to Sowetan that the couple has been estranged for five years.

She has been implicated in the trafficking of R3million worth of raw cocaine from Brazil to South Africa.

Sheryl Cwele, director of health and community development at the Hibiscus municipality in Port Shepstone, is due to appear in court again on February 12.

She and Nigerian Frank Nabolis, who was arrested last month, face three charges - dealing or conspiring to deal in drugs; procuring a woman named in court as Charmaine Moss to collect drugs in Turkey; and procuring another woman, Tessa Beetge, to smuggle nine kilogrammes of cocaine from South America.

Beetge was arrested in Sao Paulo on June 13 2008 with 9,2kg of cocaine concealed in her baggage. She is serving an eight-year jail sentence for drug trafficking in Brazil.

Last week, DA shadow minister for state security Theo Coetzee called on Minister Cwele to resign.

"This is disturbing news and raises a number of serious questions regarding the minister. These include whether he was in any way involved in these alleged offences and whether he has received any information from his wife that could compromise his role.

"We believe that he must demonstrate that he is in no way compromised by this matter. If he fails to do so, he ought to stand down from his position right away."

Until now, Cwele's detractors had assumed he was living with his wife but Sowetan can reveal that she moved out of their marital home in Gamalakhe, Port Shepstone, to Shelly Beach where she met Nabolis.

Although they are not yet divorced, he is known to have a relationship with an MP in Cape Town.

Her colleagues at work and in the regional ANC describe her as a "naive housewife" who was thrown into financial problems following the separation.

"She does not have an extravagant lifestyle but the separation from her husband left her struggling.

"News of her involvement in drug trafficking bothered a lot of people but it was clear she was struggling," an employee at Hibiscus municipality said.

Cwele, a medical doctor, and Sheryl, a nurse, married in the 1980s and ran a surgery in Port Shepstone in the early 1990s. They have three grown children.

An ANC insider said the post at the municipality was created for her to ease her financial problems.