DURBAN - SOUTH African law enforcement has seized more than R1.2 billion worth of cocaine in three major busts in the past few months.
It was an intelligence-driven operation at a container depot in Isipingo, south of Durban, by the Hawks Serious Organised Crime Investigation team and officials from Durban Harbour and Crime Intelligence Border Security in the early hours of Tuesday that led to the total seizure to breach a billion.
Police had received information about drug smuggling. Hawks spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Philani Nkwalase said a container allegedly containing animal food was searched.
“Twenty-six branded canvas bags were found with bricks of cocaine weighing 541kg with an estimated value of more than R243 million.”
Hawks head Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya said they were closing in on drug cartels.
“We appeal to the community not to demand the supply, which will ultimately help in closing the market.”
Institute for Security Studies senior researcher Richard Chelin said it was highly likely that the cocaine originated from Latin America. He said although local consumption could not be ruled out, the amount indicated it was already packaged and meant to be shipped to Europe because South Africa was used as a hub to transport cocaine to Europe.
“There’s consumption here, but it’s quite expensive. People would rather have heroin and cannabis because it’s cheaper. We need to question why the sudden rise. Is it that more cocaine is being shipped into the country? Is there more effective policing in addressing drug issues? Maybe one gang is ratting out on the other.”
SA Medical Research Council specialist scientist Dr Nadine Harker said such busts signalled increased monitoring and surveillance of drug supplies into the country.
“We need holistic approaches to manage the problem from all sectors of government as well those involved in treatment and prevention services.”
On June 2, the Hawks seized R400m worth of pure cocaine weighing 800kg, concealed in a 3.6m ski boat on the N1 in Pretoria. The cocaine was reportedly destined for local and international markets through a drug syndicate allegedly stockpiling a large quantity of cocaine in Gauteng.
On March 1, the Western Cape Organised Crime Narcotics Unit seized 973 blocks of compressed cocaine estimated at R583m in three compartments of a fishing vessel off the Saldanha coast. Ten suspects, four of Bulgarian descent and six from Myanmar, were subsequently arrested on charges of dealing in drugs.
Last month, Mario Radoslavov Vasev, Asen Georgiev and Atanas Mihaylov Bikov were convicted and sentenced to a collective 60 years’ imprisonment and their assets worth R46.5m were forfeited to the state.