South Africa: Heroin is flooding our streets and
Iol.co.az, August 21, 2006
By Karyn Maughan and
Drug syndicates are eyeing schools as they seek to
grow a market of young heroin addicts.
The street price of heroin is now between R30 and
R50 a gram - less than a tenth of its price five
years ago and half the price of a bank bag of
In Gauteng and Pretoria alone, hundreds of heroin
addicts - some as young as nine - are dying of
overdoses every month, according to a police drug
|'The dealers often
target kids to deal for them'
schoolchildren, prepared to do anything for their
next hit, are forming criminal heroin "clubs" to beg
or steal money for their addictions.
The heroin explosion in South Africa is addressed in
the latest annual United Nations drug report. The UN
attributes the boom to "spill over" from Southern
Africa's increasing role in international drug
"The upward trend is particularly noted in South
Africa," the 2006 report stated.
Narcotics experts believe the local drug market is
being deliberately flooded to encourage addiction
One fix is often enough to trap a child into
addiction, with withdrawal symptoms including skin
sores, excruciating muscle and bone pain, vomiting
|'I think he wanted his
mom to know what had happened to him'
Cheap street heroin is being
concocted from 20 to 30 percent "Thai white" - which
is about 90 percent pure - and diluting substances
as toxic as rat poison.
Dangerous mixtures of heroin and Rattex, teething
powder and bicarbonate of soda has reached epidemic
proportions in KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town.
Meanwhile, Pretoria police have raised alarm bells
about "nyaope", a mixture of dagga and heroin that
is ravaging township youth in Mamelodi, Soshanguve
In an effort to investigate Gauteng's drug trade,
The Star spent several days and nights undercover on
the streets of Yeoville and its surrounding areas.
Our guide was a member of the disbanded South
African Narcotics Bureau, who spent about 20 years
investigating the country's drug syndicates.
While the kingpins, who head more than 100 drug
syndicates in Joburg, live in luxury homes in
Fourways or Dainfern, their empires flourish in
suburbs like Yeoville, Hillbrow, Fordsburg and
"Little Baraka" (little Portugal) in Berea.
Having witnessed drug deals, getting caught up in
shootouts and speaking to career dealers, a
frightening picture emerged - the heroin trade is
Massive busts by the elite Scorpions crime-fighting
unit may have left the streets starved of hashish
(cannabis resin), but heroin ("brown sugar") was
While the substances added to heroin increase, the
intensity of the "high" and its effects are deadly.
No official statistics for the number of heroin
overdoses in the country are available, but
organisation Drug Aware claims that one Pretoria
hospital alone treats 10 to 25 cases each month.
The UN report revealed that South Africa's demand
for heroin treatment has multiplied three-fold since
And six counsellors from the South African National
Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence have told
The Star that they are "overwhelmed" by the number
of children seeking help.
Two months ago, the state-run Magaliesoord
adolescent rehabilitation centre was forced to stop
admitting patients because it could not cope with
the demand for in-patient treatment.
It has just recently started admitting patients
Heroin is just as easily accessible in schools as it
is on the streets, said police Captain Johan
Combrinck, co-ordinator for the Gauteng
"The dealers often target kids to deal for them.
They'll get the child hooked and then suggest that
they deal in the school in order to earn their own
"The kids using heroin usually club together so that
they can buy the stuff. They choose one child at a
time to go out and steal and sell something for
money. Once they have bought the heroin, they share
Some schoolchildren are forced into sex work in
order to finance their addictions, he said.
Speaking about the growing number of children killed
by heroin overdoses, Combrinck described how a
nine-year-old Pretoria boy living on the streets
managed to leave his mother's phone number on the
pavement where he died of a heroin overdose.
"I think he wanted his mom to know what had happened
According to Combrinck, heroin is being used across
racial lines - with a growing number of children in
the townships becoming addicted to the drug.
After giving an anti-drug lecture at the
Pretoria-based Montana High School last week, a
16-year-old girl approached Combrinck.
"My friend Thando is addicted to heroin," she said.
"I'm very, very worried."
Combrinck took down her details and promised to
follow up. He hopes this is a child he can save.