Declaring war on drugs
The government is to urgently re-establish narcotics and firearm units to fight cocaine and heroin drug cartels using South Africa as a transit hub, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko said yesterday.
Speaking on the sidelines of the second Africa-Russia Anti-Drug Dialogue in Durban, Nhleko said although there was no concrete timeline yet in place for the units to be up and running, the SA Police Service and his ministry were working on having this done as soon as possible.
"There is a level of urgency. This issue of specialised units dealing with drugs and firearms ... has been a burning issue.
"In every outreach programme we are involved in, these are the issues that come up," he said.
President Jacob Zuma mentioned the re-establishment of the units in his State of the Nation speech last month.
He said: "As part of the 'back to basics' strategy, the ministry of police will establish special units to deal with drugs and related transnational crimes as well as violence and the proliferation of firearms in our society.
"The two units are the SA Narcotics Enforcement Bureau and the National Bureau for Illegal Firearms Control and Priority Violent Crime."
Asked if the units would be operating before the end of the year, Nhleko said: "It is early in the year, so I think the end of the year is too late. It has got to be done."
The importance of fighting drugs was made clear during the opening session of the conference which saw delegates from Africa join South Africa and Russia in formulating plans to deal with a growing drug trade through Africa into Europe.
Victor Ivanov, director of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service, told the delegates South Africa - and Africa in general - had become a vital transit hub for cocaine and heroin.
He illustrated how cocaine came from Latin America into West Africa, and Afghan heroin through the East Coast of Africa. The drugs then went north through the continent.
"The over $4-trillion [about R61-trillion] proceeds of this drug trade feeds international crime networks," he said.
This, in turn, resulted in an "increase in violence in transit countries. We must elevate drug status to levels of terrorism and piracy".
"South Africa is under attack from both sides - cocaine on the west and heroin on the east."
Officials were reluctant to name the South African entry points for drugs but Ivanov and Nhleko insisted not just sea ports were being used by traffickers. Trains, rail and road networks were also being used.