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Durban - In one of the biggest dagga busts in KwaZulu-Natal, police arrested 13 men using 30 donkeys to smuggle dagga worth millions of rand across the mountains from Lesotho into South Africa.
In a joint raid, mounted units from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and the police made the arrests in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park.
In total, 66 bags of dagga with a street value of R3.6 million were seized.
The 13 men, aged between 25 and 33, were expected to appear in the Bergville Magistrate’s Court on Friday for being in possession of dagga and an unlicensed firearm and ammunition.
Police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said the bust was made by members of the Pietermaritzburg Mounted Unit and KZN Wildlife.
The joint operation was conducted in the Upper Tugela area in an effort to clamp down on illegal firearms and drugs in the area, Naicker said.
At about 6.30pm, police spotted a group of men carrying the bags and accompanying 30 donkeys near Sandlwana.
“There is quite a problem in that area regarding dagga and guns as our members often get shot at by men with AKs,” Naicker said.
“We arrested one man with an unlicensed firearm while another got away. The guy we arrested had a bulletproof vest on. That shows he was prepared,” Naicker said.
A 9mm handgun and eight rounds of ammunition were seized.
Police found 66 bags of dagga slung over the donkeys while some of the men were also carrying bags of it.
Naicker said the donkeys, which were in a poor state of health, were being examined by a vet.
He said some donkeys often did not make it to the South African side as they fell off cliffs or were left behind by their handlers.
“They use these donkeys to cart the dagga into South Africa. After offloading the dagga, they leave the donkeys behind. Some make their way back (to Lesotho) on their own,” he said.
Provincial Commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni congratulated the unit on another successful operation in the area.
“We are concerned that such a large consignment of drugs was being brought into the province.
“We will be working closely with prosecutors to ensure that we deal decisively with these criminals.
“Their actions are contributing to other crimes in KZN. We will continue to monitor activities on this known drug route,” she said.
Last month a KwaZulu-Natal couple believed to be among the country’s biggest dagga smugglers were arrested in Copesville, Pietermaritzburg.
The couple allegedly had used donkeys and horses to transport balls of compressed dagga over the border.