DURBAN: In the past four months, South African police, working with international law enforcement agencies, have dealt a blow to international drug cartels that have used the country as a springboard for the lucrative global trade in cocaine and heroin.
Since July, police have seized drugs with a street value of more than R1 billion, much of it destined for the international market, and arrested several members of the elaborate syndicate.
While several members of the syndicate are behind bars and are at various stages in the criminal justice system, a manhunt is under way for their accomplices.
One of the first major busts of the year was on June 2, when the Hawks, along with the FBI and the Australian Federal Police, nabbed 39-year-old Niel Pieter van Zyl on the N1 highway in Pretoria. He was towing a 3.5m ski boat wherein 800kg of pure compressed cocaine with an estimated street value of R400 million was allegedly found.
A week later, the police pounced on Rafiek Baderoen, 44, Rashied Baderoen, 48, and Michael Norman, 38, in Strand in the Western Cape.
The Hawks’ South African Narcotics Enforcement Bureau) has issued a warrant of arrest for Ahmad Isa, for his alleged involvement in the cocaine shipment that was discovered in Gauteng.
It is believed that Isa, 41, who was last seen in Camps Bay, went on the run after the Hawks busted four of his alleged accomplices in Gauteng and Strand.
Saneb is also searching for Donates Jukna, believed to be is in his early thirties.
Jukna, a Lithuanian national, was last seen in the vicinity of the East Rand Mall in Gauteng in June.
In the weeks to follow, police would make multimillion rand drug busts in Johannesburg and Durban that are believed to be linked to the syndicate.
Dr Chris de Kock, a crime analyst and former head of police crime information analysis centre, said police must be praised for the drug seizures and arrests. The clampdown could point to new vigour in tackling the multibillion dollar illicit drug trade’s presence in South Africa.
“When I was in the police, every year there was an increase in the number of drugs that were seized, which was a good thing and showed that the police were doing their job. But many of those cases were actually petty or minor cases in small quantities, especially of cannabis… taken from a person walking in the street or something like that.
“The recent cases, however, are very significant, especially if one looks at the cocaine that has been seized coming into the country. The police need to make more inroads into the trade and go after the labs and the production side of the drug trade.”
De Kock said that because of the money involved in the drug trade, drug kingpins often bribed police officers, not just in South Africa but across the world. The recent busts showed that some police officers in the country were not easily corrupted.
“This could show that there has been a clean-up in the police ranks but it is still too early to speculate,” he said.
Some of the major drug busts since June 2021:
June 22, 2021
A consignment of drugs, weighing 541kg and with an estimated street value of more than R243m, was confiscated at a container depot in Isipingo, 19km south of Durban.
The Hawks' Serious Organised Crime Investigation team, with the members from Durban Harbour as well as Crime Intelligence Border Security, discovered a container that supposedly had animal food in it at the depot.
When they opened it, they found 26 canvas bags with bricks of cocaine.
The drugs weighed 541kg an estimated street value of more than R243m.
Drugs with a street value of R500m were seized at Durban Harbour in an operation by the South African Narcotic Enforcement Bureau of the Hawks from Gauteng, National Office and Durban units.
Hawks spokesperson Katlego Mogale said the team acted on information received which was operationalised on a container at the harbour.
Mogale said the container was reported to be containing truck parts destined for SCANIA South Africa.
A total of 999 bricks of cocaine, weighing 1 000kg and with a street value of R500m, were seized.
At the time, police said that since March, more than four tons of cocaine had been seized in South Africa. Most of the drugs would have been destined for other countries while at least 20% would have remained as payment to the traffickers and consumption in the domestic market.
In a bust police believe is linked to the Durban Harbour seizure, 552 bricks of cocaine with an estimated street value of R200m was found in a state-owned vehicle, following a hijacking of a cargo truck at Aeroton business premises in Johannesburg.
Police discovered 23 big bags containing cocaine.
Three police officers were arrested in connection with the drug find in a police vehicle, a Nissan bakkie.
The police seized the cocaine and four vehicles – a grey BMW, a Volkswagen GTI, a Kia Cerato and the Nissan bakkie. An amount of R60 000 in cash was also seized.
Police said it was reported that the cargo truck, which was travelling from Durban harbour, was followed by the suspects’ vehicles from N3 near Leondale to its destination in Aeroton warehouse (in Gauteng) where it was hijacked for its loot.
The Hawks nabbed a 58-year-old man for allegedly transporting drugs from Johannesburg to Durban.
Hawks spokesperson Simphiwe Mhlongo said members from the Durban Serious Organised Crime Investigation, working together with Crime Intelligence, arrested Nadaragen Chetty, 58 at the Mariannhill Toll Plaza
“A search was then conducted and 10 packs of heroin powder, with a street value of about R1.8m, was found concealed in the dashboard,” said Mhlongo.
KwaZulu-Natal police confiscated pure heroin with a street value of R2.3m in a bust at a home in Glenwood.
The Hawks officers, from the Durban Serious Organised Crime Investigation Unit, along with officers from the Crime Intelligence and Durban Metro Police Drug Team, arrested the 47-year-old male suspect for dealing in drugs.
The man had allegedly been distributing heroin in various places in the KZN.