KZN is SA's teen drug capital

2009-10-10 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL has the highest number of young drug addicts in South Africa, with experts saying that this is set to increase as drug trafficking peaks in the country ahead of 2010.

Weekend Witness also heard from top cops involved in drug investigations that up to 50 drug-related cases are investigated each month in the Pietermaritzburg area alone.

Cocaine is the new rage on the club scene and dealers appear to be getting bolder, while the drug users they supply seem to be getting younger.

Drugs have become a lucrative underworld business with dealers constantly on the lookout for “mules” who will assist in smuggling drugs into the country in exchange for big bucks.

From restaurant owners to university professors and other high- profile individuals — those in the field say one would be surprised by the scope of the drug clientele.

However, police are adamant that they are on top of the situation and are working tirelessly to bring these criminals to book.

Captain Marina Jurgens of the organised crime unit, which is part of the division of priority crime investigations, told Weekend Witness about the drug situation on the streets of Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas.

While Ecstasy is still in circulation, it is no longer the rage.

According to Jurgens, cocaine has taken over as the drug of choice for many young people of Pietermaritzburg.

“I think Ecstasy has become so common that we hardly receive information on it.

“Cocaine powder is now seen as the glamour drug. It has become cheaper and West African nationals readily supply syndicates who fetch the supplies from Durban, or the drugs are delivered to them by runners, or the users are supplied by resident Nigerians within the city.”

She said the current street value of cocaine powder is between R300 and R350 per gram.

Youngsters are known to club in for cocaine so it is more affordable.

It is then cut it into lines to be snorted, often while the users are also drinking.

Jurgens said dealers make deliveries to house parties.

“Within the social scenes, cellphones are the instruments of crime. It is as easy as one young person saying to another, here is my supplier’s number.”

She said youngsters will often meet their suppliers at petrol stations.

Another way locals, especially the unemployed, are getting hold of drugs is by frequenting “crack houses”, where crack cocaine is sold. This form of the drug is smoked, and it is extremely addictive.

She said drug users can contribute to crime in that some will do anything for a fix, which for many youngsters starts with stealing household goods from their parents in exchange for drugs.

Crack cocaine goes for R50 to R100 a piece, depending on the size of the “rock”.

According to Jurgens, crack has gained over mandrax, which is commonly known as “buttons” and is also smoked.

“With modernisation and westernisation, drugs have spread out to all races and all communities.”

She warned that mixing drugs together enhances the mind-altering effects and makes users aggressive.

Jurgens said that while it might appear as if the drug problem is a no-win situation, a lot of progress has been made.

“I have been in this line of work for over 20 years and it is getting worse.

“You arrest a prominent drug dealer and tomorrow another one pops up. Drug dealers are getting bolder because it is such a lucrative business and an easy way of making money.

“They are constantly trying to outsmart us. It’s like a cat-and-mouse chase.”

However, she said, “the law will prevail”.

She said the youngest drug offender she has come across was 13 years old and just last week they arrested a 15-year-old found in possession of five buttons of mandrax.

SENIOR Superintendent Devon Naicker, head of narcotics in the organised crime unit, said dagga is the most popular drug in Durban, where it is smoked mainly by teenagers.

Heroin, “sugars” and cocaine are also popular among youth addicts in KZN.

“Durban has a reasonably high consumption of drugs. There is always a demand for drugs. We know that this drug problem is more than a policing issue, it’s a socio-economic problem that affects the poor,” he said.

He said more drugs will be brought into the country in the build-up to the Fifa World Cup, resulting in more drug seizures in 2010.

Naicker and his team hope to tackle the country’s huge drug problem by starting at the local level and eradicating drug peddlers as well as those responsible for bring the drug consignments into the country.

Recently, the team brought down a multi-million-rand drug syndicate operating in Durban and the United Kingdom. Two Britons were arrested at Heathrow airport.

It is believed that the drugs were being shipped as cargo for a truck battery company to the UK. Six people have been arrested in total.

“That was a very important case for us. We found the drugs and managed to arrest the runners and the kingpin behind the syndicate. We are on a mission to get them all,” he said.

Naicker said the difference between the R500  million bust and previous cases is that the team took down the hierarchy of the syndicate, as well as arresting suspects in South Africa and the UK.

“It’s not about just seizing the drugs. We are aiming to get to the kingpins behind these syndicates,” he said.

He said Durban is extremely vulnerable to the drug trade because of its geographical position.

“Because Durban is a port city and has the busiest port in Africa, drug traffickers find it easy to bring in their drugs,” he said.

While Naicker admits that while inspecting the 1,5 million containers that pass through the port each year is impossible, a special task team is looking at ways of tightening security around the harbour.

He said harbour police need more training to equip them with the skills to identify drugs and other signs of drug trafficking.

HAVING specialised in narcotics for 23 years of her 28-year police service, Captain Marina Jurgens strongly believes that dagga is the gateway to stronger drugs.

“I’m strongly opposed to the legalisation of dagga simply because I have seen the havoc it causes. In almost every respect, dagga is where it all starts and young people have to believe that.”

She said talks are periodically given in schools and on radio, but at the end of the day, “saying no to drugs” is a decision every teen has to make for him or herself.

“WHAT is heartening is the drastic improvement in the way courts are viewing drug-related cases,” says Captain Marina Jurgens.

“They are imposing stringent sentences on drug offenders, which is sending a message that it will not be tolerated.”

An offender with previous convictions recently received three years’ imprisonment after being found in possession of five pieces of crack cocaine.

“You are looking at a criminal record,” she warns.

THE Health Promotion Research and Developmental Unit of the Medical Research Council recently conducted its second youth risk behaviour survey and the third global youth tobacco survey in South Africa to establish the eight kinds of behaviour that place youth in grades 8 to 11 countrywide at greater risk of catching diseases when they are older.

While results will be released in February next year, a similar study in 2002 painted a grim picture of the level of drug use among South African youth.

In a sample of close to 10 700 pupils in grades 8 to 11, 11,5% of them admitted to using heroin, 6,4% cocaine and 5,8% club drugs such as Ecstasy, LSD and speed.

Almost 50% had used alcohol.

The highest incidence of dagga abuse was among coloured teens; inhalants such as glue, aerosols and paint thinners were largely used by white pupils.

Nationally, 20,2% of the boys had used dagga, compared with only seven percent of the girls.

Drug abuse by pupils in KwaZulu-Natal was worse than shown in the national percentages.

In the 2002 study, 11,8% KZN pupils had used dagga, compared to the 12,8% national figure, but 17,8% of KZN teens admitted to having used inhalants (11,1% nationally).

The trend was the same for cocaine.

In KZN, heroin use among the youth was pegged at 15,2% compared to 11,5% nationally, while over-the-counter prescription drugs were abused by 24,8% of KZN pupils (15,5% nationally).

Dr Shegs James said big changes are expected in some the behaviour types that were investigated as a result of lack of co-ordinated education related to lifestyles.

I have been in this line of work for over 20 years and it is getting worse.


In Pietermaritzburg, supply police with information about drugs by calling 033 845 2535.

Because Durban is a port city and has the busiest port in Africa, drug traffickers find it easy to bring in their drugs.

Over-the-counter drugs

24,8% in KZN (15,5% nationally)



17,8% in KZN

(11,1% nationally)


Drug use by race:

Dagga highest among coloureds

Inhalants highest among whites.


By gender:

20% of boys

7% of girls




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