Cape Town -
A machine that uses a premixed substance to produce 16 000 mandrax tablets an hour is one of three such contraptions police seized this week in an operation that is unravelling a sophisticated drug production scheme.
One of the machines, which police say was apparently disguised to look like exercise equipment, was discovered in a garage in an affluent part of Plumstead.
On Wednesday, Mitchells Plain police cluster commander Jeremy Vearey, who heads Operation Combat which focuses on gangsterism and related crimes in the province, said officers were not only focusing on drug dealers, but trying to cut off the drug supplies to various areas.
Aside from the three machines discovered this week, a suspect linked to the devices was arrested as part of a long-term operation between the Mitchells Plain cluster of the Operation Combat team and the provincial team.
Vearey said the breakthroughs came after months of investigation.
In the first discovery on Monday, in Milford Road, Plumstead, a machine used to press tablets was discovered in a garage. It could make 6 000 mandrax tablets an hour or 100 a minute.
Vearey said part of the machine had been covered in canvas and it was “carefully disguised” to look like exercise equipment.
Other items, including money, chemicals and packaging equipment, had also been found.
Police spokesman Andre Traut said while some members searched the Plumstead house, which was “vacant and in disarray”, others followed up on more information and arrested a suspect, 33, in a luxury car in a street near Mitchells Plain.
The suspect was then taken to the house where the machine was “on a trolley and hydraulic jack” in the garage.
“It is understood that the suspect, from Mitchells Plain, has been operating the drug laboratory for the past four years and lives at more than one address.
“He would programme the machine, leave while the machine manufactured the tablets on its own,” Traut said.
The suspect was expected to appear in the Wynberg Magistrate’s Court soon.
Vearey said on the same day the first machine was found, officers discovered a second machine in the Lansdowne Industrial area.
“(This) machine is much more sophisticated. It’s stainless steel,” he said.
Vearey said it was estimated the machine could produce about 16 000 mandrax tablets an hour.
Following up on further information, officers then found a third machine in the Parow industrial area on Tuesday.
“It’s a smaller, portable machine,” Vearey said.
The machines did not make a noise when in use.
Vearey said one did not need to be present when operating the two bigger machines.
A knowledge of chemistry was not necessary.
Vearey said a premixed substance could simply be put into the machines.
He said the industrial machines could be used in a domestic environment and this showed that a big warehouse was not necessary to produce masses of mandrax tablets.
The machines were also less noticeable in more affluent areas as neighbours were less likely to know what was going on inside a home next door.