Crystal meth being poured into a lolly at a drug house in Eldorado Park. Picture: Neil Baynes
Crystal meth being poured into a lolly at a drug house in Eldorado Park. Picture: Neil Baynes

Crystal meth is the first or second most common drug of use in most South African provinces

By Thobeka Ngema Time of article published Nov 3, 2021

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DURBAN – In the 21st issue of the Risk Bulletin on the Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime (GI-TOC) said for decades, heroin produced from poppies grown in Afghanistan had been dispatched from ports along the Makran coast of Iran and Pakistan on large wooden fishing vessels and, increasingly, container vessels. The heroin is destined for trafficking networks operating in port cities along the East African coast.

“Originally, these ports were way stations along the East African seaboard for onward trafficking to wealthier heroin consumer markets in Europe and the US, but this has evolved in recent years. While transit of heroin through East and southern Africa to other regions is still a major issue, significant heroin consumer markets have emerged in cities and small towns across East and southern Africa, fed by a network of overland trafficking routes,” the GI-TOC said.

The organisation said recent seizures of both heroin and meth suggest that some of this new influx of Afghan meth is being trafficked into Africa, ‘piggybacking’ on the long-established heroin trade.

Illicit flows through northern Mozambique as at February 2021. Screenshot: Risk Bulletin on the Observatory of Illicit Economies in Eastern and Southern Africa

The GI-TOC’s research in Africa has found that Afghan meth, arriving in the region in conjunction with the regular flows of heroin, has been available in the urban drug markets of South Africa since mid-2019.

“Meth has often not been seen as a major drug being used or trafficked in Africa. Yet our research has found that crystal meth has gained a foothold in eSwatini, Lesotho, Botswana, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya. South Africa is a major meth consumer market. Data on reported drug use by people who use drugs found that meth is the first or second most common drug of use in most South African provinces,” the GI-TOC said.

“Tests of wastewater in two sites in the East Rand and Cape Town for residual methamphetamine in 2020 found that estimated meth use levels were among the highest reported in the world. This suggests that the number of people who use meth in South Africa, and possibly across the region, may be far higher than national drugs monitoring and health programmes currently believe. There is a strong and growing demand for crystal meth in Africa, and Afghan meth is contributing to meeting this need.”

The GI-TOC said seismic political shifts were taking place along the ‘southern route’ for drug trafficking, from Afghanistan via East and Southern Africa.

The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban meant that the country’s entire opium poppy crop – estimated to be as much as 80% of the world’s opium production – and its nascent methamphetamine industry is now under Taliban control. Halfway across the world, Rwandan and Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops have been fighting the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, a key corridor in drugs trafficking to and through southern Africa. The territory had been recaptured from the insurgents, including the key port town of Mocímboa da Praia, which came under extremist control in August 2020.

The developments may have a significant effect on the scale and nature of drug trafficking to East and southern Africa, although the role of extremist groups in shaping illicit economies is still often poorly understood.

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