Durban - There was chaos in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on Thursday when the three men arrested in the massive drug bust in Kloof this week appeared for the first time.
The men refused to face press cameras and magistrate Wendy Robinson ruled that their identities could not be made public.
Journalists were also told they would have to apply to attend their next court appearance on July 8.
The Chinese men, aged 57 and 58, and a 24-year-old South African were arrested at a house in Everton Road on Tuesday evening by the Phoenix Crime Intelligence Unit, Umhlali K9 unit and tactical response team.
Police found drugs in 50kg bags and manufacturing equipment.
The men have been charged with dealing in 10 tons of methaqualone, commonly known as Mandrax. The police had originally said they suspected the drug was heroin.
Dozens of print, radio and television journalists were in court and clamoured to take photographs and record visuals of the men after the magistrate had initially allowed access to the courtroom.
However, the men were taken back to the holding cells because Robinson said the media had not followed her ruling correctly and had failed to ask the defence for permission.
Attorney Samlal Garbaran, who is acting for the Chinese men, complained that his clients had almost been accosted by the media when they walked to the dock.
State advocate Waldo Smit said the Hawks, who were investigating the case, said the identities of the men should not be revealed because it could jeopardise the case.
“The case is in its early stages and there may be further arrests and ID parades may be held.”
Robinson made a ruling that the names of the men and their photographs could not be published and only allowed the print media to remain in court.
But the case was not called again and Robinson went to the holding cells to adjourn the case after she was told the men refused to come back to court.
The Durban branch of the People opposed to Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad) were in court and its regional co-ordinator Abdul Gani said the organisation wanted bail to be opposed.
The men were brought to court after being walked through the Kloof house with police forensic investigators who wanted more questions answered.
The two Chinese looked tired as they emerged from the police vehicle and kept their heads down as they were escorted in.
Police spokesman Jay Naicker said the men were taken to the house so police could get “clarity” on information they had given.
The police said the drugs would be destroyed after the case was finalised.
The bust comes as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report for 2014, which was released on Thursday, indicated that the global use of methaqualone appeared to be on the decline.
The report said this was due to the improved control of the distribution of precursor chemicals which were used in the manufacture of the drug.
The report noted that during the 1980s and the early ‘90s methaqualone was the second-most popular drug in South Africa after cannabis.
The report also noted that South Africa reported the second highest amount of seizures of the drug between 2000 and 2012 and was the main exporter of precursor chemicals in Africa.
Referring to other drug use, the report said there appeared to be an increase in the use of heroin and methamphetamine and some decrease in the use of crack cocaine in South Africa, while dagga remained the most commonly used drug.
“Treatment facilities report that dagga remains the most common illicit substance used, particularly among young people. Almost half of the admissions at specialist treatment centres were primarily related to dagga-use disorders.”
The reported noted that South Africa was a major “consumer” market for heroin and cocaine.