South African Minister’s Wife Gets 12 Years for Drug Dealing

By Dirk Hanson 05/10/11

Wife of intelligence minister sought young women as drug mules.

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Sheryl Cwele in court. Photo via gbcghana

We read about it all the time: “Politician Caught in Drug Scandal”—but the drug scandal now unfolding in South African politics involves a good deal more than personal foibles. Opposition parties in South Africa got a huge boost when Sheryl Cwele, the wife of South African State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, was sentenced late last week to a 12-year prison term for drug trafficking. Politicians have been calling on Mr. Cwele to resign his high-ranking government post since his wife’s conviction. “It is incomprehensible that the state security minister can have an alleged drug trafficker in his house without him being aware of it,” Christian Democratic leader Kenneth Meshoe announced in the press.

The sordid tale unfolded like a bad movie: Ms. Cwele and an accomplice were engaged in the business of finding and hiring young women to be used as international drug mules. The scheme began to unravel when a South African woman was arrested for cocaine possession in Brazil. The woman’s parents revealed to a South African newspaper that Sheryl Cwele, an acquaintance and former neighbor, had offered their daughter a job overseas and had made the arrangements for her trip to Brazil. The South African press has revealed that Cwele’s husband had been briefed by intelligence officials on his wife’s drug dealing. Officials told Mr. Cwele they believed that her activities could seriously compromise the government by casting doubt on the competency of the national intelligence network. Which is exactly what happened. Kenneth Meshoe, a spokesman for Cwele’s political opponents, said the intelligence minister has “failed the state by failing to uncover drug trafficking happening under his nose.”

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]

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