November 8, 2002

UN blame South Africa for being an international hub of the drug trade

According to the United Nations, South Africa's attractiveness to investors and its burgeoning foreign trade have transformed it into one of the world's drug centres and lured international crime syndicates.

The South African country profile on drugs and crime by the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention paints a grim picture: "Increases in legitimate trade are exploited by drug trafficking and contraband smuggling operations. Capital inflows for portfolio investment grew -- according to International Monetary Fund data -- from $1,1-billion in 1993 to $13-billion in 1998. These are large sums compared with flows to developing countries generally. There is concern that parallel to the increased attractiveness of South Africa for legitimate investors, its appeal as a base for money laundering operations may have risen."

South African Police Service (SAPS) research in 1997 showed the existence of 192 organised crime groups in the country, of which 92 were mainly focused on the international smuggling of drugs. Most are West African criminal networks, the report says, especially from Nigeria. They are involved not only in drugs but in kidnapping, fraud, stolen vehicles and human trafficking. South Africa is also becoming a manufacturer of illicit drugs ranging from Mandrax to ecstasy, crack cocaine, methamphetamines, GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate), MDA (methylenedioxyamphetamine) and methcathinone, otherwise known as Cat. In the decade after 1987 an average of three drug laboratories a year were closed down. Between January and September of this year police shut 23.

South Africa might be the world's biggest producer of dagga; it is Africa's biggest consumer of cocaine, has the world's most avid Mandrax users and is a fast-growing market for heroin -- mostly among white school-going youth. Drug abuse has risen dramatically since 1998, and an average of 135 drug-related cases are investigated by police every day, the report says.

The report notes that drug abuse is a significant factor in crime, with a quarter of all drug-related crime taking place in the Western Cape. South Africa is also a regional and international hub for drug trafficking -- most of the dagga confiscated in the United Kingdom in the past two years was South African. The country is a key link in Latin America's cocaine trade and Asia's heroin trafficking. Despite this "there is currently no national programme for [narcotics] prevention in place" and limited funding for treatment. Also, "specialised investigation units are being phased out". The data makes it clear that the elimination of specialised drug units is probably a mistake. (Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg)

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