The search for the kingpins


    drugs1Paul Buckley
    Cannabis, mandrax, heroin, cocaine, crystal meth and nyaope, which contains heroin, are the most prevalent drugs in South Africa. (Image: Paul Buckley)

    • Peter Ucko
    The Central Drug Authority
    +27 82 454 9889

    South Africa’s justice system
    SA’s youth can beat drugs
    Keep our youth drug-free
    Lean times for drug traffickers
    South Africa gets tough on substance abuse

    Romaana Naidoo

    Over the past few years, the legal system, with the help of police and special task teams and units, have come down hard on drug syndicates forcing their way into South Africa.

    Just a few days ago, the Hawks – the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation – confiscated 40 kilograms of heroin, with an estimated value of R48-million, in southern Johannesburg. The Hawks were established to tackle organised crime as well as deal with economic crime, corruption and other serious transgressions.

    The drugs were found in the boot of a car belonging to a 42-year-old man, believed to be part of an international syndicate. Heroin is the key ingredient in the local street drug, nyaope, which is thought to contain HIV antiretroviral drugs.

    In February, convicted drug lord Glenn Agliotti was slapped with a final order to sequestrate his estate. This followed an order for provisional sequestration by the South African Revenue Services of Agliotti’s property made in November 2013. He owes the tax man more than R70-million in income tax and value-added tax obligations between 2003 and 2008, with interest.

    In August last year, the KwaZulu-Natal High Court forfeited a Pietermaritzburg drug kingpin’s five properties and car. Joyce Komane acquired the assets through her illegal sale of drugs. According to Judge Rishi Seegobin, she was at the top of the syndicate and supplied dealers and runners, who sold to the public. Komane was convicted of racketeering and drug dealing, but these were overturned on appeal in October 2010. However, the state persisted in an application for the forfeiture of her assets which, it alleged, were the proceeds of her drug dealing between 1996 and 2005. Seegobin ruled that they were indeed.

    Another Pietermaritzburg drug dealer was arrested in 2012 at King Shaka International Airport after flying from Brazil via Dubai. She was allegedly found with 540 grams of pure cocaine with an estimated street value of about R500 000 in her luggage. She was said to be at the top of a syndicate. Also in 2012, the Hawks recovered R142 600 in cash and other items in Limpopo after arresting an alleged drug kingpin.

    With the crackdown on drug dealers and their suppliers, the government is taking a proactive stand to rid the country of its vices, through applying policies and practices to create and reinforce healthier lifestyles.

    The government takes a stand

    The Central Drug Authority (CDA) was formed as an advisory body in terms of the Prevention and Treatment of Drug Dependency Act with the mandate to assist in the fight against substance abuse.

    As part of its responsibility, the CDA has been tasked to implement the National Drug Master Plan (2013-2017), which was approved by the cabinet on 26 June 2013. This plan serves as a guideline for preventing and reducing alcohol and substance abuse. It received the go-ahead from the cabinet on International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

    The CDA works with all government departments as well as Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China South Africa) and their security cluster, the South African Police Service with Interpol, and the African Union. The authority’s Peter Ucko says: “Drugs and syndicates are simply criminal and greed. It is unlikely that it will stop. Our objectives are ‘reduce supply’ (busts do that) and ‘reduce demand’ (through education programmes). Also, the busts reduce supply which increases prices. Higher prices lead to drugs being less affordable which reduces demand.”

    As part of an international community entangled in the world drug problem, South Africa has taken a firm approach to dealing with all forms of substance abuse, be it alcohol, over-the-counter medication or illicit substances such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin. It places emphasis on four pillars: prevention, early intervention, treatment, and after care and reintegration.

    The president speaks out

    At the opening of the second Biennial Anti-Substance Abuse Summit in 2011, President Jacob Zuma stressed the calamitous consequences of substance abuse. He explained that the government was concerned with promoting social cohesion and stable communities, and that reducing substance abuse was key to achieving that goal.

    During Youth Month in 2013, Zuma said that “alcohol and drug abuse in particular are slowly eating into the social fibre of our communities”. “Drug and substance abuse have serious implications for the millions of citizens because they contribute to crime, gangsterism, domestic violence, family dysfunction and other forms of social problems.”

    He added that the government was implementing an Anti-Substance National Plan of Action. There are already more than 215 local drug action committees around the country.

    In a crackdown in the southern Johannesburg suburb of Eldorado Park about a year ago, people were arrested and 20 drug dens, also called “lolly lounges”, were closed down. A week earlier, Zuma had visited the region and said he would assemble a steering committee, including national departments and provincial and local government, to implement an anti-drugs strategy in Eldorado Park that could act as a pilot project for a national strategy. He visited the suburb in response to a letter from resident Dereleen James who spoke about a spiralling drug problem, inefficient policing and a lack of facilities for young people in the community battling drug addiction.

    The steering committee set up a joint operation centre, closed down 20 “lolly lounges”, and assigned 10 metro police officers to each ward in the area and an additional nine social workers to the area. A “lolly lounge” is a buildings used by dealers to lure young women into using drugs and sometimes prostitution. They get their name from the lollipop-shaped pipe used to smoke the drug tik.

    According to Ucko, cannabis, mandrax, heroin, cocaine, crystal meth and nyaope, which contains heroin, are the most prevalent drugs in South Africa. “Heroin was shown in the World Drug Report as about 0.4% of the population usage. In South Africa, it was almost zero. The quality of heroin in South Africa was relatively poor. Recently sea patrol confiscations and other busts show a better quality of heroin entering South Africa. This is an indicator of possible increasing injection use.”

    Heroin is the key ingredient in the local street drug, nyaope, which is thought to contain HIV antiretroviral drugs. (Image: jellymc)

    National Drug Master Plan

    “The impact of alcohol and substance abuse continues to ravage families, communities and society. The youth of South Africa are particularly hard hit due to increases in the harmful use of alcohol and the use and abuse of illicit drugs,” reads the National Drug Master Plan.

    “The revised National Drug Master Plan 2013 – 2017 and the work done by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Alcohol and Substance Abuse seek to address these challenges. The Inter-Ministerial Committee has worked on policies, laws and strategies that seek to reduce the supply and demand for alcohol and illicit drugs.”

    The plan states that the government “further displayed its commitment through the leadership of the president when intervening in the challenges faced by the community of Eldorado Park. A special intervention plan was developed in line with the pillars prescribed in the National Drug Master Plan 2013-2017.”

    It is intended to help realise the vision of a society free of substance abuse so that more attention can be focused on raising the quality of life of the poor and vulnerable and of developing the people to achieve their true potential. “In comparison with the National Drug Master Plan 2006 – 2011, the revised plan focuses more on the delivery of evidence-based strategies that are designed to meet the defined needs of communities. It also strengthens prevention, which is the most important leg of this programme.”

    The new plan offers a balanced approach to collaboration on drug control and should help South Africa fight substance abuse and “set the country firmly on the road to creating a healthy nation”.

    International legislation

    Internationally, new laws have been put in place to deal with people who help crime lords, such as lawyers, accountants and financial advisers. They are already in effect in the United States, which has its anti-mafia “Soprano’s law”, and will soon come into effect in the United Kingdom.

    Assistance given to drug lords and the like, which help them evade the law by not getting their hands dirty, will now also get people jail time. South Africa’s equivalent laws are the Prevention of Organised Crime Act of 1998 and the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act of 2004.

    Anonymous tip-off line

    South Africa established Crime Line for people to make anonymous tip-offs regarding suspected crimes. The organisation scooped two awards at the 34th Annual Crime Stoppers International (CSI) Conference in Barbados in October 2013.

    Head of Crime Line and CSI vice-president Yusuf Abramjee serves on the board of directors together with Lieutenant-General Vinesh Moonoo and Colonel Dr Attie Lamprecht from the South African Police Service (SAPS). The team represents Crime Stoppers Southern Africa, which so far includes Crime Line and Crime Stop.

    There have been significant reductions in crime in CSI member countries that have set up dedicated anonymous tip-off lines. The lines have also helped to serve, strengthen and improve relations between the public, the police and the media.

    Crime Line co-ordinator Marisa Oosthuizen notes that initiatives such as Drug Watch, a Crime Line partnership with the SAPS, Lead SA and the Community Police Board of Gauteng, show the effectiveness of tip-offs and police action. Over 27 000 arrests have been recorded in Gauteng since the initiative was launched in June 2013, she says.

    The latest SAPS figures puts the number of Drug Watch arrests at 35 422, while over R14.2-million worth of drugs have been seized.

    People can send detailed anonymous tip-offs to Crime Line’s 32211 SMS service, at a cost of R1 per SMS; call Crime Stop on 08600 10111; or submit tip-offs online at