The Year in Review, 2023: Major drug hauls in 2023

KwaZulu-Natal police seized over R150 million worth of cocaine during a drug bust in the Durban harbour. Picture: SAPS

KwaZulu-Natal police seized over R150 million worth of cocaine during a drug bust in the Durban harbour. Picture: SAPS

Published Jan 1, 2024


South Africa has become a hub for drug trafficking, with narcotics from across the world making its way to our shores.

In September, the 2023 Global Organised Crime Index revealed South Africa as one of the major players in drug trafficking.

It revealed that the country has positioned itself as a critical node in international Afghan-produced heroin smuggling routes to Europe, Australia, and Africa.

According to the report, South Africa finds itself at the centre of an intricate web of the global drug trade, serving as both a significant consumer and a pivotal node in the international narcotics network.

The country is grappling with the proliferation of various drugs, from heroin and cocaine to cannabis and synthetic drugs, each with its unique set of challenges and implications.

Criminal networks often use illegal crossings along the wide borders with Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and eSwatini, these ports of entry, as well as cargo transported through our harbours.

However, in 2023, law enforcement agencies have been making a dent in the drug trade as it has successfully managed to seize millions in drugs.

These are of the major drug hauls made in 2023:

In January, a 41-year-old Department of Correctional Services (DCS) member in the Western Cape and her 20-year-old daughter were arrested after they were found with mandrax and tik worth about R1.2 million.

The DCS official, who worked at Vanrhynsdorp Correctional Centre, was caught at her place of residence packaging drugs with her daughter and was also in possession of R17,800 cash.

– Members of the Kaapmuiden South African Police Service (SAPS) in Mpumalanga made a major drug bust of 58 plastic bags containing 53 kg of crystal meth, worth about R53 million in street value, during a stop and search operation at the Nkomazi Toll Plaza. Two suspects were arrested.

– A man transporting 30 bags of mandrax tablets with an estimated street value of R1.5 million was arrested in Beaufort West in the Western Cape. He was arrested after he allegedly offered members of the Western Cape Provincial Organised Crime Investigation Narcotics Section, R400 to escort him past traffic officers patrolling the N1 highway.

In February, police recovered drugs worth R1.5 million in an unused geyser room in a lodge in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). No arrests were made.

In March, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (known as Hawks) arrested 16 suspects in a joint take-down operation during a series of raids across the Southern Cape and Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape by joint police teams.

The suspects were aged between 32 and 58.

Seven suspects were arrested in Oudtshoorn, three in George, one in Gqeberha, one in Ladismith, two in De-Rust, and the last two in Calitzdorp.

The take-down operation dismantled a syndicate of drug traffickers controlling the Southern Cape region. The syndicate mainly operated in the Garden Route District, which is George, De-rust, Oudtshoorn, Ladismith, Pacaltsdorp, and Calitzdorp.

Since the inception of this operation from 2019 until March 2023, a total of 5,354 mandrax tablets and 816 grams of Tik to the value of R421,070 were seized from the suspects.

A total of 32 cases were registered, with 54 charges.

In April, A 60-year-old man was arrested in the Western Cape for possession of drugs. Police officers attached to Operation Restore, alongside Traffic Services, stopped and searched a vehicle at the Klawer weighbridge.

This after information was received about a silver Jaguar with a trailer carrying a Jetta that was en route to Cape Town with drugs hidden in the vehicles. The vehicle fitting the description was stopped. During the search of the vehicle, three bags containing heroin were found in the boot of the vehicle. After an extended search of the Jetta, the members found 50 more bags containing heroin hidden in the back seat of the vehicle. The drugs were valued at R3.7 million.

– Parklands in Table View, a foreign national was arrested for possession of tik. After a raid, police found 13 containers (13kg) filled with tik to the value of more than R3.2 million.

In May, A 29-year-old man travelling from Brazil was nabbed trafficking cocaine with an estimated street value of R2.15 million at OR Tambo International Airport in Gauteng.

– A police officer was one of two women arrested for being in possession of pure cocaine with a street value of R6 million in Durban. Durban Metro Police Service said its Drug Team received information about drugs stored in a flat on Gillespie Street in the Point area.

– The Hawks' South African Narcotics Enforcement Bureau (Saneb) team, together with Crime Intelligence’s Counter Narcotics unit, confiscated 31,000 mandrax tablets with an estimated street value of R1.5 million during an operation in the Epping industrial area in Cape Town which resulted in the arrest of two suspects for dealing in drugs.

In June, police recovered a consignment of cocaine discovered in a cargo container at the port of Ngqura in the Eastern Cape. A total of 32 blocks of cocaine worth R12.8 million was found in an empty cargo container due to transport fruit from South Africa to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In July, a truck carrying 250 heroin bricks entered South Africa without being thoroughly checked at the border. According to the Hawks, the drugs worth an estimated R75 million and destined for the international market, were coming from Mozambique.

In August, the SAPS’ National Intervention Unit uncovered a dagga storage facility in Schaapkraal, Philippi in the Western Cape. Officers found two unknown suspects hard at work, compressing and sealing dagga in bags. The dagga was worth R1.5 million.

– Police arrested a 57-year-old man from Harrismith who was driving a Opel Corsa bakkie found with 60,000 mandrax tablets worth R3 million on the N1 near Beaufort West in the Western Cape.

– The Hawks in Mpumalanga arrested two foreign nationals found transporting dagga with an estimated street value of R2.5 million. The duo allegedly offered security officers a R19,250 bribe to let them go.

In September, the Hawks arrested two men in the Western Cape after receiving information about drugs that were being transported from Gauteng to Cape Town. During a search of the vehicle, drugs were discovered inside the boot. A total of 60,000 single mandrax tablets and 61 packets of mandrax with an estimated street value of R3 million was found.

In October, cocaine valued at R80 million was confiscated from a warehouse at the Dube Trade Port, within the King Shaka International Airport in KZN. The drugs, hidden in meat boxes, were seized at a third-party facility at the Dube TradePort.

– The Hawks recovered R70 million worth of drugs at the harbour from a vessel en route from Brazil. The drugs were found inside paint containers.

In November, the SAPS seized a substantial consignment of cocaine worth R65 million at the Gqeberha Sea Port in the Eastern Cape.

– The illicit narcotics were found aboard a vessel that had entered the country from Brazil.

– A 34-year-old man was arrested after the team received information of a suspect travelling from the Eastern Cape to Cape Town with a truck loaded with mandrax tablets worth R2.7 million.

In December, KZN police seized over R150 million worth of cocaine during an operation at the Durban harbour. The container that was intercepted was en route from Brazil.

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