Journalists hoping to interview convicted South African drug mule, Tessa Beetge, who arrived home today after serving close to six years in jail in South America, were rebuffed when authorities helped Beetge leave the airport through another exit. Even Margie Olsen, her aunt, did not realize that she had slipped through the airport until it was too late. A bewildered Olsen was seen grasping a big bunch of yellow roses that she intended to give her niece as soon as she got back into the country after her release from Brazil. As media reported that Beetge had slipped unseen through the building, Olsen was seen answering a cell phone call from her niece, reportedly apologizing that she had left the airport through a different entrance.
It was later reported that convicted drug mule Beetge’s father, Swannie Swanepoel, was also whisked out of the airport and that he had joined his daughter when she was interviewed briefly by the SABC (the country’s official broadcaster) for their Special Assignment program.
Beetge was caught red-handed with more than 10 kilograms (more than 22 lbs.) of cocaine in 2008, when she entered Brazil via the Sao Paulo airport. Evidence at the trial was that she had been paid to smuggle cocaine between South Africa and South America by the ex-wife of Siyabonga Cwele, South Africa’s State Security Minister, Sheryl Cwele and Nigerian Frank Nabolisa. Charmaine Moss, who was also recruited by Cwele, turned down the offer to smuggle drugs between South Africa and Turkey and eventually turned state witness in the Cwele case.
Sheryl Cwele was only convicted of drug trafficking in South Africa several years later, in 2011, and sentenced to a total of 12 years in jail. When she and her co-accused (who was also convicted) appealed their sentences, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) increased the sentences by eight years, stating that they had gotten off too lightly. Both of the accused had pleaded not guilty to hiring drug mules, Moss and Beetge, to carry cocaine and other drugs between South Africa and other countries. Recently, the 20-year sentences were reduced to 12 years.
The attitude of the court was that drug mules get caught often, while the handlers or dealers, or those importing the drugs, too often get away with their crimes. When the SCA increased the sentences, it stated that both Cwele and Nabolisa were “sowing the seeds of destruction” in the lives of many South Africans, including children. When it was announced that convicted drug mule Beetge had slipped unseen into South Africa not long after her release from jail, both Cwele and Nabolisa were still firmly behind bars.
Interviewed at OR Tambo International Airport Thursday, Olsen said she was only sorry that her sister, Beetge’s mother, Marie Swanepoel, was not alive to see her daughter return to the country. She maintained that Marie, who had campaigned for her daughter’s release for years, would have “just hugged and hugged Tessie.” Swanepoel died after a stomach operation in October, due to “organ failure.”
It is understood that convicted drug mule Beetge was released into a police holding cell after her release from jail. She opted for deportation rather than being released on parole because she had no money or support system in Sao Paulo. The Brazilian government paid for her flight home. In South Africa, her ex-husband, Jan Beetge, has custody of their two daughters, who are now 15 and 17 years old. It is not known whether he will allow his ex-wife to be reunited with their daughters.
According to Patricia Gerber, founder of Locked Up, a South African NGO that tries to get prisoners from South Africa who are in foreign jails released home, Sao Paulo has a high number of drug mules from South Africa currently behind bars. She also said there were a number of security issues, which was reportedly why convicted drug mule Beetge slipped unseen into the country after her release from jail in South America.
By Penny Swift