Johannesburg - Two-and-a-half tons of Mandrax powder, valued at about R2 billion and believed to be one of the biggest hauls in the country, was seized on Monday from a plot in Vlakfontein, Benoni, after a house caught fire.
It is alleged that four Basotho were running a drug-making factory from the premises.
The drug powder, in its raw form, covered the grounds of two tennis courts.
According to Captain Mack Mngomezulu, the Benoni SAPS cluster media liaison officer, the occupants were renting the plot.
After a fire broke out on Sunday night, neighbours alerted the fire department when they saw smoke.
Firefighters arrived and saw four people fleeing. They had to force their way into the abandoned premises.
Once inside, the firefighters found the drug lab, put out the fire and called the police.
Mngomezulu said there were “tons and tons” of a powdered form of Mandrax drying on the tennis courts.
He said the fire was believed to have been caused by an explosion from cooking the drugs.
“It looks like the powder was being dried out in preparation to turn it into pills,” he said.
No one was arrested, but investigators found four Lesotho passports in the house belonging to a woman and three men.
On Monday morning, the area was sealed off because of the dangerous chemicals in the air. Forensic investigators wore masks and protective clothing.
Mngomezulu said it would take time to remove the drugs from the property, and this would be done as soon as forensic investigators completed their work.
Mandrax is known as a downer or sedative. It was once legally prescribed as a sleeping tablet, but was taken off the market as it caused dependency and its side-effects were found to be life-threatening.
Users crush the pills and smoke the powder in a pipe. The effects provide a temporary escape from reality by relieving fears, tension and anxiety.