Christmas in jail for drug lab accused

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The 19 men charged with drug trafficking for their alleged involvement in a drug lab in affluent Gillitts appeared briefly at the Pinetown Magistrates Court. Photo: Gcina Ndwalane

Durban - Sixteen of the 19 men arrested in connection with an alleged drug laboratory in the Upper Highway area will remain in custody until February when they are expected to apply for bail.

Taking their places in the crowded dock at the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday the 19 men, facing drug trafficking charges for possession of 76 000 mandrax tablets and 50kg of heroin, bowed their heads trying to avoid media attention. Four of the accused were dressed in identical neon green-and-black tracksuits, while the others appeared in jeans and hoodies or jackets.

Prosecutor Khumbuzile Shazi requested an adjournment on Tuesday on the grounds that the State needed to investigate new information provided by the defence.

Shazi said three accused - Swazi nationals Thoba Shongwe, Siphiwo Dlamini and Menzi Ntshalintshali - would seek bail on December 23.

The remaining 16 would stay in custody until February 27.

At their first appearance, earlier this month, the matter was heard in camera because of a dispute about the ages of two accused, Mshawa Mofokeng and Lepheana Mahlakwana.

After an examination by a district surgeon, it was confirmed that the men could be tried as majors.

The men, alleged to be illegal immigrants from Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, were arrested after police raided a house in Alexandra Drive, in Winston Park, Gillitts.

It is alleged they were packing drugs for distribution to other provinces.

The extensive investigation was conducted by the national Crime Intelligence Unit, the SAPS counter-narcotics team and KwaZulu-Natal’s Hawks.

The estimated street value of the drugs is R41 million. Equipment such as plastic heat sealers, drying trays and UV lights allegedly used to process and package the drugs was found at the home.

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