Durban - Empty rooms. Heavy fumes. Bunkers under construction. Spades in cement and piles of rubble strewn in the backyard. Raw heroin powder.
This was the scene at 110 Everton Road in Kloof on Wednesday after the luxurious home in one of Durban’s most exclusive areas was cordoned off by the police top brass, led by national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, following one of the country’s biggest drug busts.
On Tuesday night police, acting on a tip-off, pounced on the house and discovered 50kg bags of suspected heroin as well as industrial manufacturing machines, a scale and other containers. Police said there were more than 200 bags of the drug, with an estimated value in excess of R3 billion Initial reports put the value of the seized heroin at R10 billion.
Three men, aged 23, 55 and 56, were arrested and would appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s court on Thursday afternoon.
After the bust, the media was taken on a tour of the sparsely furnished property.
Shocked neighbours spoke of their disbelief that a drug manufacturing operation of such a scale had been going on under their noses. The house was occupied from April, after being vacant for a while.
“I thought it was just construction work going on in the house. There was an orange construction bakkie carrying machinery, but I never suspected anything,” said a neighbour.
Eugene Maphilela, a contract worker cutting road verges, said the house’s residents had asked for their neighbour’s understanding while the building work was under way.
“They would work well into the night, but I never suspected they were manufacturing drugs. It’s shocking,” he said.
Maphilela said people would come into and leave the house throughout the day. “There were even women at one stage. They were here for about a week,” he said.
Phiyega, who was accompanied by her national and provincial subordinates, said the bust was a “gigantic success” and that the drugs were a huge contributor to other related crimes like murder and robberies.
“I recently stated that I have issued an instruction that Crime Intelligence identify the top 15 syndicates in the country and work with the detectives and the Hawks to go after them. These are syndicates operating in serious crime such as drugs, cash in transit heists, human trafficking, money laundering, arms and ammunition,” she said.
“Furthermore, I instructed them to also pay close attention to known criminals. All provinces have now drawn up a list of top 30 wanted suspects.”
She said the bust was an “intelligence-driven operation” by the police’s Umhlali K9 unit, the Umhlali task team, Phoenix crime intelligence and the provincial tactical response team. “(They) successfully uncovered the biggest drug lab ever to be exposed not only in KwaZulu-Natal but South Africa.”
“It all started when the members from the Phoenix crime intelligence were following information of a drug lab operating in Kloof. After gathering enough intelligence, the members decided to act on the information. Relevant units were summoned for back-up and these members proceeded to the premises,” she said.
Phiyega said first indications were that the bust had international implications.
This was confirmed by the police’s national head of detectives, Vinesh Moonoo, who said the drugs were destined for the international market.
Phiyega said the kingpins would be dealt a blow as the machinery found in the laboratory required “serious and massive” investment.
Moonoo said the latest “trends”, suggested that operations were moving into urban areas as they required space, silence and seclusion, to perform undetected.
He said the investigation into the bust would look at how the sophisticated equipment came into the country, with a sharp focus on the ports.
The Mercury and Sapa