Durban - In the end it wasn’t worth it. Growing dagga in a secret laboratory in a house in Durban North might have seemed like easy money, but it now means two schoolchildren will grow up without their mother, who was one of those sent to jail for eight years on Friday.
The five Durban North dagga dealers, who brought several court applications to delay sentencing, were led from court to the cells, and then taken to Westville prison, after they were handed lengthy jail terms in the Durban Magistrate’s Court.
Tracy-Anne Pretorius, her boyfriend Tyronne Hofland, and their co-accused Travis Bailey, Bonzile Chutshela and Senzele Dlezi, were convicted in November 2011 of drug dealing after a raid at Pretorius’s Durban North home, where 44kg of dagga worth an estimated R2.2 million was being cultivated in a laboratory in a concealed basement.
In a lengthy judgment, magistrate Najama Kathrada said the five had shown little or no remorse, and Bailey, Hofland and Pretorius had been the “main offenders”, while Chutshela and Dlezi had been employed as workers.
She sentenced Bailey, Hofland and Pretorius to eight years in prison, and Chutshela and Dlezi to five years each.
Quoting case law in which lengthy sentences were given to drug dealers, Kathrada said that the crime had to be viewed in a “serious light”.
“The court has to send a message to drug dealers who frequent our country, which has become a profitable, hospitable market for them. Selling drugs is not worth any money.”
She reminded the court of the case of Sheryl Cwele, the former wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, saying the sentences were in the “best interests” of the five.
“In the Cwele case, on appeal the sentences were increased from 12 to 20 years. There is a possibility that this could happen in this case. The sentences are not disturbingly inappropriate.”
Earlier on Friday, attorneys for the five had argued that the sentences were excessive, and that the court had placed no emphasis on their clients’ personal circumstances.
Attorneys acting for Bailey and Pretorius argued that Kathrada had ignored the fact that their clients were the primary caregivers for their children.
Kathrada ordered that a copy of her judgment and the case record be sent to the Law Society and the Society of Advocates for a probe into the conduct of the legal representatives.
Speaking outside court on Friday, attorney Lourens de Klerk, who represents Dlezi and Chutshela, said his clients would petition the judge president for leave to appeal.
“I believe all the accused will be following this route, as this is an option available to us.”
The five, particularly Pretorius and Hofland, had tried to stop sentencing by claiming, in a high court review application last year, that their previous advocate, JP van der Veen, had been totally incompetent, and they had therefore not had a fair trial.
In response, Van der Veen made legal history by breaking lawyer-client confidentiality and disclosing that his former clients had confessed to him. He said they had refused to plead guilty, and so he could only conduct their defence “on the basis of the interpretation of the definitions contained in the Drugs Act”.
Judge Gregory Kruger dismissed the application and said it was not in the interests of justice to allow them “any further opportunity of escaping liability”.
The attorneys for the five also applied to Kathrada for her to recuse herself, claiming she was “angry with their clients”, but she refused the application.
Kathrada also denied the five leave to appeal against their sentences and convictions. She said Judge Kruger’s review decision had dealt with the fairness of the trial, and he had found the convictions were appropriate.
Pretorius wept during the sentencing, while her co-accused kept their heads down.
Their families, seated in the public gallery, cried too, and ran to comfort them as they were led away by police to the holding cells.
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