Durban - After making South Africa’s biggest drug bust at an upmarket Kloof suburb, the police are shifting their focus to ports of entry for telltale signs of further large-scale narcotics activity.
National police commissioner General Riah Phiyega, who visited the drug factory on Wednesday and congratulated all the officers involved in the bust, said she was mindful that this would not stop drug lords.
“This success may be the largest this country has yet seen, but it is not the first of its kind and I don’t think it will be the last,” said Phiyega.
Briefing the media on the expansive lawns of the Everton Road house, which police raided on Tuesday, she described the operation as a “gigantic success”.
More than R3 billion worth of pure heroin powder was seized, but the figure is expected to rise as investigations continue.
Yesterday, police sources estimated the bust to involve R10bn in drugs, chemicals, sophisticated, hi-tech equipment in the laboratory, and the property. As counting and weighing continued, sources said the R3.5bn figure was set to climb.
They said the laboratory contained expensive, hi-tech, sophisticated equipment.
“Engineers will be brought in today to quantify the equipment in the lab. There are huge stainless steel boilers and other contraptions. Whoever handled this lab needed to know what they were doing. It is state of the art,” said one source.
Three people were arrested.
The divisional commissioner of the detective branch, Lieutenant-General Vineshkumar Moonoo, said crime syndicates involved in drug labs were moving into upmarket suburban areas.
“They probably need space and seclusion so that is why they target quiet, upmarket areas to run their operations from,” he told reporters.
“We will also be looking at ports of entry to clamp down on things such as the machinery and equipment used in the manufacture of the drugs. A task team has already been mobilised,” said Moonoo.
Phiyega said the Kloof operation had been launched when members of the Phoenix crime intelligence unit followed up on information about a drug lab operating in the area.
“After gathering enough intelligence, the members decided to operationalise the information. Relevant units were summoned for back up. They successfully uncovered the biggest drug lab. Upon searching the premises, they found three men in the premises, then discovered 50kg bags of suspected pure heroin powder as well as industrial manufacturing machines, scales and containers,” she said.
“We are still counting the bags, but at the last count, we had counted more than 200.”
She said it was too soon to say if there were any connections between the Kloof drug lab and the one uncovered at a house in Gillitts in November.
The three men arrested on Wednesday, aged 23, 55 and 56, appeared in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court today on charges relating to the manufacture of drugs.
A member of the police Special Investigation Unit, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to the media, said they had also found more than 200 drums containing the banned chemical, diacetylmorphine, in the house. “Diacetylmorphine is the main active ingredient in heroin manufacture. When combined with opium along with other ingredients, you get heroin – which is used in the street drugs referred to as whoonga or sugars,” he said.
He was shocked that the occupants of the house had been working without suffering any apparent side effects from the strong smell of the chemicals.
The ANC has commended police on the bust.