A lucrative drug trade route is flooding South Africa with heroin, which the government and law enforcement agencies are ill-equipped to deal with.
These findings were revealed in a policy report released by Enact, an organisation that monitors and develops responses to transnational organised crime on the continent, on Thursday.
Last night Hawks national spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed the findings, saying: “There is an exponential growth in the heroin market in SA which is attributed to the demand for nyoape or whoonga.
“Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya form part of the southern route for the trafficking of Afghan heroin.
“It is true that with intensified focus by Tanzania, the trafficking has been displaced to Mozambique which feeds the SA market mainly via land borders through Swaziland and directly from Mozambique.”
The report shows the rapid emergence of a drug industry that is now worth billions of rand and feeds the addictions of more than 185 000 users in South Africa.
This number was from 2015 and is believed to have increased significantly over the past four years.
SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence director Walter Petersen said their organisation had seen an increase in heroin users - particularly among those who use heroin-based drugs such as whoonga, also known as nyaope.
“There is certainly an increase. Once it (heroin) comes in, it’s peddled as whoonga, nyaope or sugars, or other names.
“Heroin is still the grandpa of all drugs, but it is cut with all sorts of rubbish to make it more affordable.
“It follows a trail of organised crime and piggybacks on human trafficking. We need to step up our vigilance at all ports of entry,” said Petersen.
He added that with the elections and protests, police and authorities “are so busy elsewhere vigilance has dropped and this weakens an already weak system.”.
Author of the report, Simone Haysom, said: “South Africa’s heroin crisis is extremely serious and is taking a heavy toll on communities.”
All of this is in part due to a more efficient supply route that begins in the poppy fields of Afghanistan, enters South Africa via Mozambique and then follows the national highways not only to the larger cities, but also smaller towns and rural areas of the country.
This is the so-called “southern route”, which until recently, according to the report, was the “poor relation” of the Balkan and central routes, which cut over land to Europe from Afghanistan.
The southern route has become more significant because of an increase in opium production in Afghanistan, lax law enforcement in east Africa, and a clamp down on the other routes.
“Basically, there is more heroin that needs to move somewhere,” said Haysom.
This heroin crisis is affecting poorer communities the most, the report found, with many people subjected to extreme violence from gangs competing for control of drug markets.
Researchers also found the heroin trade had a corrupting influence on the police.
“People have described patrol vans arriving at drug-selling points twice a day for small cash injections,” said Haysom.
“The government’s reaction has been an ostrich approach, burying its head in the sand,” said drug researcher Simon Howell, who did not take part in the research.
Fellow drug researcher Shaun Shelly believes that to deal with South Africa’s growing heroin crisis the police need to change their approach.
“The police need to stop using quotas,” he said, referring to arrest quotas for drug-related offences.
Shelly said that on average more than a 250000 South Africans were arrested each year on drug-related charges, but few lead to convictions.