Lowvelder says, ‘No to drugs’

Mireille de Villiers, News editor of Lowvelder

Experts estimate that as much as 60 per cent of crime in South Africa is linked to drugs and drug abuse.

Police officers in particular ascribe this to the disbandment of specialised units by former police commissioner, Jackie Selebi. The South African Narcotics Bureau was one of the units whose detectives were moved down to local station level in 2003.

An intelligence report of the FBI’s Drug Enforcement Agency called the move a squandering of decades of specialised drug enforcement experience. With it, specialist knowledge went down the drain.

In five years the incidence of drug-related crimes almost doubled to 228,1 incidents per 100 000 citizens. Since the disbandment of the Scorpions, the successful prosecution of these crimes also dropped to an average of eight to 10 per cent in court.

Yet the drug statistics tend to look better than they are: for every arrest of a suspect caught with a large amount of dangerous drugs, more than double are hauled before the courts for possessing a small amount of dagga. Both are crimes, but they are not equal.

Even where the SAPS achieve successes in drug busts, the courts are failing them by continually granting bail to accused, who are rearrested on similar charges a few months later, or, at a prosecutor’s discretion, being caught with R50 million worth of heroin constitutes “possession”.
Moreover, accused criminals are granted asylum to stay in South Africa, where they continue their dealing and distribution.

Police officers focused on other types of crimes simply cannot police drugs as well; it requires a full-time approach.

Some in law enforcement have expressed the hope that acting national commissioner Lt Gen Khomotso Phahlane, would reinstate the specialised drug units should he be appointed full-time; yet his two predecessors since Selebi, Bheki Cele and Riah Phiyega, have failed to do so. The smuggling of drugs goes hand in hand with that of rhino horn. In the months to come Lowvelder intends to reveal the drug networks. Yet, for all the attention on the war against poaching, South Africa’s drug problems are not a part of the national discourse.

Users become consumers become addicts, fuelling the “other economy” where products have a 1 000 per cent mark-up. With our “No to Drugs” campaign, Lowvelder is joining hands with the community and law enforcement to change this.

If this requires naming civilians busted for using, as well as holding to account the National Prosecuting Authority and Home Affairs for their poor treatment of the massive yet hidden problem, the newspaper will expose this. Because drugs are not cool.

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