SA heading to top of tik trade chain
South Africa is fast becoming a major exporter of one of the most destructive drugs on the market.
Only days after a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report singled out South Africa as one of the biggest players in the region in the manufacture of tik, police said they had arrested a woman allegedly trying to smuggle a large consignment of methamphetamine.
The 46-year-old woman, who is to appear in the Bellville Magistrate's Court today, was arrested by border police at Cape Town International Airport on Sunday.
The 10.5kg of tik allegedly found in her luggage has an estimated street value of R3-million.
"The suspect arrived in Cape Town on a flight from Johannesburg. Her luggage was searched when she appeared suspicious, during which 10.5kg of concealed tik was found in her luggage," said police spokesman Warrant Officer November Filander.
The woman was arrested in 2006 in Johannesburg for dealing in dagga. Filander said she was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment in 2007 but was released after serving five years.
One of the most concerning findings in the UN report was that South Africa has become a leading manufacturer of tik in the Southern African region. Previously, the drug had largely been imported.
Tik, according to the 2008 UN Office on Drugs and Crime report, emerged in South Africa in Gauteng in 2003, before it reached the Western Cape.
But the authorities say the problem of tik is countrywide. The drug, which is described by the Medical Research Council of South Africa as a "powerfully addictive stimulant", has been destroying communities, especially in the Western Cape.
However, police narcotics sources - who asked not to be named - said it was becoming a huge problem throughout the country.
"This drug is definitely on the increase. It is everywhere, especially in the Pretoria suburbs of Eersterus and Laudium, and in Johannesburg's Lenasia," a police source said.
He said the drug is popular because it is relatively cheap - a small bag of it sells for between R60 and R80.
Gauteng is emerging as one of the bigger producers of tik.
"In 2010, of the 22 drug labs shut down, four were tik labs. In 2011, of the 14 drug labs closed down, six produced tik."
The white odourless powder - which is the second-most widely used illicit drug in the world after cannabis, according to the UN - is easily made with cheap over-the-counter products available at most pharmacies.
"The side-effects include severe aggression and it can be fatal," said the police source.
"The biggest problem is that people think they are buying the purer drug, cat, when in fact they are buying the cheap and nasty tik," he said.
Users suffer from convulsions and often die of a stroke or heart attack.
The drug can either be smoked, snorted, ingested or injected intravenously. In South Africa, it is usually smoked.
The drug is often associated with the gang wars raging in Cape Flats communities such as Hanover Park.
Last week, eight people lost their lives in gang wars on the Flats.
The youngest victim was eight-year-old Mogamat Junaid McKenzie, who was caught in the cross-fire of a gun battle between two gangs in Steenberg.
Yesterday, Western Cape Community Safety MEC Dan Plato said the current gang warfare centres on fighting for control of drug sales.
Last week, at the launch of the "Don't Start, Be Smart" drug abuse awareness campaign, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille said drugs are destroying entire communities.
"I need not remind you of the cases in which parents have been charged with killing their drug-addicted children. I need not repeat anecdotes of children assaulting their parents. I need not talk of so many young lives destroyed. There is a man-made disaster out there," said De Lille.
Tertius Cronje, of the SA National Council on Alcoholism in Western Cape, said that though national intervention is needed against drug abuse, the problem in Western Cape is complex and demands special attention.
"Given the unique problems in Western Cape, where you have high instances of substance abuse running concurrently with high instances of gangsterism ... that could call for a specific focus on a strategy attacking gangsterism and substance abuse at the same time," said Cronje.
Nelson Medeiros, operations manager at Pretoria's Crossroads Recovery Centre, said there was an increase in the number of people using tik, especially in Gauteng.
"In the past, most of our tik patients came from Western Cape and Eastern Cape, but the majority are now from Gauteng.
"The majority of those using it are in their 20s and are rich, middle class and poor," he said.
The lives of a large number of South Africans have been destroyed when they were caught smuggling hard drugs into other countries.
Last month, Nolubabalo Nobanda was sentenced to 15 years behind bars in Thailand after she was caught trying to smuggle 600g of cocaine into the country.
In March, Durban headmistress Annabella Momplé pleaded guilty to "charges of importing cocaine" and a judge of the Isleworth Crown Court, in London, sentenced her to four years and nine months behind bars.
Last year, Janice Linden, from KwaZulu-Natal, was executed in China for smuggling tik into that country, and Sheryl Cwele, the former wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, was convicted of drug trafficking.
"Traffickers also took advantage of the country's good infrastructure and South Africa emerged as a transit hub for cocaine shipments from South America destined for Europe, as well as for heroin shipments from Afghanistan and Pakistan destined for Europe," said the UN Office on Drugs and Crime report.