Picture Leon Lestrade. Story Warda Meyer. Belhar Drugs
Durban - Inept and corrupt police, a thriving gang community and organised crime are pegged as the main reasons for a rapid spike in heroin as the drug of choice in South Africa.

According to a report, South Africa’s heroin crisis is extremely serious and is taking a heavy toll on communities. Titled, “Hiding in plain sight: Heroin’s stealthy takeover of South Africa”, it looks at the heroin route that spans the country and the social and political repercussions on communities.

The report, written by Simone Haysom, senior analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, stated that the heroin industry has gone largely undetected by police and the government despite amassing more than 100000 users.

Haysom said the heroin industry had an estimated annual turnover of billions of rand.

“The problem is made worse by poor drug policy and neglect of marginalised communities. South Africa’s heroin crisis is serious and is taking a toll on communities.”

Increasing use of heroin was a spin-off from the growing international drug smuggling route down the east coast of Africa for shipment to international markets.

Eric Pelser, ENACT programme (which aims to enhance Africa’s capacity to respond to transnational organised crime) head at the Institute for Security Studies, said South Africa was at risk of contributing significantly to the surge in drug use in sub-Saharan Africa, which is expected to have 20million users of hard drugs by 2040.

The upsurge in heroin use and availability is a result of South Africa’s position on the so-called “southern route”. This route has become much more significant since 2000. This has occurred for a number of reasons, including an increase in opium production in Afghanistan, increased enforcement on other routes, and persistent impunity for traffickers operating in East Africa.

Today, according to the report, heroin is distributed in all major South African cities.

Haysom noted that there are large populations of homeless people who use heroin and congregate under bridges and in abandoned buildings in Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Tshwane.

Durban-based Anti-Drug Forum director Sam Pillay said the drug problem was not subsiding. “The issue here is that the supply is consistent so this increases the demand. There are also too few arrests and convictions. We need a unit that is equipped to deal with the scourge,” he said.

Pillay said there also needed to be a concerted effort by police to arrest kingpins and not only drug peddlers.

He said local police did not have the capacity to tackle the drug trade.

Police refused to comment on the matter and referred questions to the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks).

Spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said he did not have first-hand statistics. However, police were continuously making arrests with regard to drugs all over the country.

He said the SA Narcotics Enforcement Bureau was responsible for transnational drug trafficking and had recorded good successes by taking down illegal drug labs including those that manufactured nyaope (also called whoonga).

“We have adopted an integrated approach where all enforcement agencies share information and work closely in fighting drug smuggling and corruption at the harbour. We have also heightened our intelligence sharing with other foreign law enforcement agencies to curtail the smuggling.”

The Mercury