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SA’s 2020 drug trafficking attempts halted

A suspect was arrested in KwaZulu-Natal for transporting 2.71kg of pure heroin and 1.420kg of crystal meth, hidden in a spare tyre and inside the vehicle door pad. He also had R41 050 on him. The estimated street value of the drugs was R900 000. SUPPLIED

A suspect was arrested in KwaZulu-Natal for transporting 2.71kg of pure heroin and 1.420kg of crystal meth, hidden in a spare tyre and inside the vehicle door pad. He also had R41 050 on him. The estimated street value of the drugs was R900 000. SUPPLIED

Published Dec 24, 2020


Durban - THIS year has revealed a number of innovative ways drug traffickers tried to get their their products in and out of South Africa.

The Hawks, South African Police Service, Metro Police and many other law enforcement agencies have seized drugs that have been concealed in, among others, furniture, religious ornaments, toilet seats, tyres, hidden compartments in vehicles and luggage.

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The confiscated drugs were cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, crystal meth, dagga, methamphetamine and equipment. Some of these have been intercepted at the country’s biggest ports and main roads, OR Tambo International Airport, Cape Town Harbour and the N3.

Drugs with an estimated street value of up to R87.5 million were seized. In total, and these are the seizures we know about, more than R100m worth of drugs were seized by police in South Africa this year.

Some of these drug trafficking tricks might seem new and innovative but the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said although the fight against South African-linked drug traffickers was making progress, there were always new ways of transporting drugs. It was a cat-and-mouse game.

Moreover, a Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment 2020 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) provided an analysis of the global synthetic drugs market and represented a global thematic analysis of the key trends and emerging developments of the market as well as the recent trends in the manufacture of synthetic drugs.

Some of South Africa’s drug trafficking seizures. | THOBEKA NGEMA

ISS researcher Richard Chelin said the trafficking routes or methods were not new to South Africa. However, it was important to note that traffickers would always find new and innovative ways to transport or deliver drugs.

“There have been instances of drugs being carried in products, bags or in plants etc. What is important is the fact that law enforcement receives credible information and intelligence in addressing the issue,” said Chelin.

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He said that assuming traffickers were taking a page from Mexican and Colombian cartels would be speculation. Traffickers have always looked for new and innovative or plain and simple ways to avoid detection by law enforcement.

“The methods used to conceal drugs may not be unique to South Africa and may be similar to other cartels around the world simply because drug trafficking is a transnational crime. It could be that criminal networks in SA have contacts with other cartels, especially with drugs such as cocaine or heroin and are using methods that these cartels are successfully using in other parts of the world.”

Chelin said the type of drugs can reveal their origin, method of transportation and destination.

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In the case of heroin, as shown in cases of trucks being stopped at the border of Mozambique and South Africa or taken from Mozambique to Swaziland, the destination for heroin is often South Africa (for consumption) and from here transported to Europe, he said. In the case of dagga, it could have originally come from Swaziland or Lesotho. The origin of mandrax is often India and it arrives at Durban ports. As for methamphetamines, precursors are often from Asian countries, most recently from Afghanistan, and the tablets arrive at Durban or Cape Town ports. Cocaine originates from Latin America and often arrives at various ports as they are transported by ship, Chelin said.

He added that where the drugs are trafficked might be difficult to establish.

“As we have seen, KZN does have a big consumer market but also these drugs often find their way to other provinces. It depends on the drugs in question. Durban, for instance, has a big mandrax market and it might be possible the drugs are predominantly destined for the KZN drug market but there is a possibility other drug markets in other provinces are also supplied,” Chelin said.

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UNODC findings revealed that for the first time in 2018, ecstasy manufacturing was reported in South Africa with two laboratories being dismantled. There were reports of large quantities of ecstasy powder and tablets seized in South Africa last year and this year.

“According to information from law enforcement authorities and annual prevalence data, the two countries where clandestine methamphetamine laboratories were dismantled, Nigeria and South Africa, are also major destination markets for methamphetamine. In addition, two-way trafficking between Nigeria and South Africa has been reported,” the UNODA said.

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