Posh suburb shocked as police bust huge lab, net R41?mln drugs

2013-12-02 00:00

AN elite KwaZulu-Natal suburb has been stunned to learn that one of its stately homes is a major drug lab — and the site of a massive police raid this weekend.

A house in leafy, hyper-affluent Winston Park — roughly half way between Durban and Pietermaritzburg — was the target of one of the province’s largest-ever drug stings on Saturday night, when 19 people were arrested, and a R41 million narcotics operation uncovered.

National SAPS Crime Intelligence agents swooped on a large house at 50 Alexander Drive at 8 pm in a raid that local neighbourhood watch volunteers mistook for a break-in.

This follows earlier discoveries of sophisticated drug labs in Northdale, Pietermaritzburg in August, on the Bluff, and in Durban’s Point area on Friday. The discovery of the Winston Park drug lab comes just days after the same narcotics team uncovered a major drug distribution centre in Kempton Park worth R75 million.

Shocked residents of Alexander Drive told The Witness that — except for newly blacked-out windows — the tenants had seemed quiet and “perfect neighbours”.

However, Hayden Johnson, chairperson of Winston Park neighbourhood watch, said his team had previously tailed “suspicious vehicles” to the address, while one neighbour, Rob Adams, said plainclothes police had been seen “staking the place out for months”.

Adams — who owns a house on the tree-lined street — said: “I’m totally shocked; this is a seriously up-market neighbourhood. But these guys were clever; they obviously believed they could hide their operation here because the houses are far apart, and the walls pretty high.”

Police spokesperson Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale said the raid followed “intelligence” regarding the manufacture of “heroin straws” — described as plastic drinking straws filled with heroin.

“The entire operation, we estimate, has a street value of over R41 million, which consists of R21,4 million worth of heroin straws, R4,1 million of mandrax tablets, [and] R15 million of heroin powder and equipment,” said Makgale.

The 19 men arrested were all foreign nationals — ranging in age from 18 to 37 — six from Swaziland, six from Mozambique and seven from Lesotho. Makgale said they would likely face charges of drug possession and dealing in drugs, and would appear in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court today. “We worked through the night to complete our investigation,” Makgale told The Witness.

“We have no doubt that an operation of this magnitude is the work of a syndicate, and we believe that we are making great inroads in bringing these major drug syndicates to their knees.”

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