Intercept, destroy, incarcerate: R1bn in drugs seized as cops crack down on networks

Intercept, destroy, incarcerate: R1bn in drugs seized as cops crack down on networks
Drugs that were confiscated across the country, totalling R800-million, were destroyed in Gauteng at the end of October 2023. (Photo: SAPS)

October was a bad month for narcotraffickers operating in South Africa – with masses of drugs being intercepted and destroyed, plus two customs officials and a flight attendant jailed for smuggling.

Recent police operations related to narcotrafficking have wiped nearly R1-billion worth of drugs off the market. Days after intercepting two batches of cocaine totalling about R150-million in Durban, the South African Police Service (SAPS) destroyed R800-million worth of drugs, including heroin and mandrax, that were seized earlier across the country.

The day the R800-million pile was destroyed in Johannesburg, it was announced that two South African Revenue Service (SARS) officials, along with a flight attendant, were sentenced to at least a decade in jail each for drug dealing via OR Tambo International Airport.

Daily Maverick has reported extensively on how South Africa is cemented in global drug trafficking and how various cartels and gangs operate in and via the country.

Some recent drug crackdowns linked to South Africa involve other states including Australia and Brazil.

Cocaine interceptions

Drugs destroyed

R70-million worth of cocaine was discovered on a vessel in Durban harbour on 18 October, 2023. The vessel travelled from Brazil. (Photo: SAPS)

Daily Maverick reported that on 18 October 2023 a vessel making its way from Brazil was intercepted in Durban harbour, and R70-million worth of cocaine discovered.

Read more in Daily Maverick: R70m cocaine seized in Durban harbour months after ‘cartel diver’ boarding SA flight arrested in Brazil

Two days later, on 20 October, as part of follow-up investigations into the shipment of drugs, police discovered another cocaine consignment from Brazil, worth about R80-million.

The cocaine was disguised to look like packages of meat and was concealed in a container intercepted at a trade port in King Shaka International Airport.

The same day, cocaine packed into a container of frozen chicken, destined for South Africa, was seized in Brazil.

There was a third incident on 20 October: Brazil’s federal police said a South African woman had been arrested as she was planning to leave for home.

She was allegedly found with an abdominal belt beneath her clothing concealing 3kg of cocaine.

These busts suggest that vastly greater amounts of narcotics are moving in and out of South Africa undetected.

Mass drug destruction

Police are trying to cut off the drug conduits.

The drugs destroyed included cocaine, heroin, Mandrax and marijuana.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe explained: “These were drugs that were confiscated during day-to-day policing operations across the country.”

About R403-million of the R800-million value was cocaine discovered in a truck in Cape Town in August 2022.

Mathe said the R800-million worth of drugs were court exhibits and could now be destroyed as cases had been finalised.

“This is the third drug destruction process in this financial year, the most recent destruction was in Cape Town in September where 1.7 tonnes to the value of R170-million was destroyed,” she said.

Mathe added that in the 2022/2023 financial year, 20.8 tonnes of drugs, worth about R2-billion, were destroyed.

National police commissioner Lieutenant General Fannie Masemola said police were making inroads in clamping down on narcotrafficking.

Drugs destroyed

Police destroyed drugs including cocaine, heroin and Mandrax in Johannesburg on 26 October 2023. (Photo: SAPS)

Transnational organised crime

“The recent drug confiscation of R150-million of cocaine in KwaZulu-Natal also illustrates the cooperation between law enforcement agencies across the world in clamping down on transnational organised crime,” he said.

“Indeed, our intelligence structures are hard at work in preventing and putting a stop to the drug trade in the country and beyond.”

Border security authorities, he said, were working to tighten control of cargo leaving and arriving in South Africa.

The NPA announced on 26 October that two SARS officials and a flight attendant were sentenced to jail for drug dealing.

The case against Courdel Khoza (30), Thabo Dikgale (31) and Sydney Bilankulu (56) concluded in the Alexandra magistrates’ court.

It stemmed from another case involving a man named Oscar Osigwe, who was sentenced to eight years in jail in 2017.

Drug mule

Osigwe had entered into a plea and sentence agreement with the state and testified against Khoza, Dikgale and Bilankulu.

The NPA said that in April 2016 Osigwe arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on a flight from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He had swallowed 89 plastic “bullets” of cocaine, weighing 1,295.8g.

“Osigwe told the court a Nigerian man in Brazil had given him the drugs and bought him a ticket to South Africa,” the NPA said.

“He further told the court that the Nigerian man said there would be people at the [airport], who would be waiting for him and that his identity was already shared with these people.”

SARS officials

Following Osigwe’s arrival, while he was in a queue, two SARS customs officials – Khoza and Dikgale – approached him.

They searched him and told him they were the ones who had been waiting for him.

Osigwe, Khoza and Dikgale went to a hotel where his cellphone SIM card was replaced with a new one – with which he was to communicate with the SARS officials once he had excreted the drugs.

“They gave him instructions on where to drop off the bag with drugs after the excretion was completed,” the NPA said.

Police intervention

Meanwhile, a police sergeant stationed at the airport received an anonymous tip-off about a man from Sao Paulo who was smuggling cocaine.

The sergeant assembled a team and went to Osigwe’s hotel.

Osigwe admitted to the cops that he had excreted 71 of the 89 cocaine bullets.

He received a call from one of the other three accused, who were unaware police were onto them, and was told where to drop off all the excreted cocaine.

Osigwe handed the bag of cocaine “bullets” to Bilankulu, a flight attendant for Air Namibia, who was present with the two SARS officials, Khoza and Dikgale.

The police team intervened and arrested them.

Bilankulu, Khoza and Dikgale were each sentenced to more than a decade in jail for drug dealing and defeating the ends of justice.

‘Abused authority’

The NPA’s 26 October statement highlighted the SARS customs officials’ involvement in drug smuggling.

“In arguing for a harsh sentence, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Jacob Serepo argued that the accused abused their authority as law enforcement officers,” it said.

“They had acted dishonestly. The accused facilitated the importation of drugs whereas their mandate as law enforcement officers was to curb the scourge of drug dealing.”

Daily Maverick has previously reported that underpinning trafficking crackdowns in South Africa are suspicions that police officers are sometimes involved in drug smuggling.

Last year Hawks spokesperson Katlego Mogale told Daily Maverick: “Police officers have previously been arrested in cocaine interceptions, particularly related to Durban. [A] special task team has been assigned to conduct investigations which are ongoing and still sensitive.”

In July 2021 cocaine worth R200-million was discovered in a bakkie following the hijacking of a cargo truck after it left Durban harbour.

Police officers had been among those arrested for that.

A few months later, in November 2021, the Hawks announced that 514kg of cocaine, worth about R200-million, had been stolen from its Serious Organised Crime offices in Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 front page



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Max Ozinsky says:

    Daily Maverick thinks dagga is a drug and puts it together with cocaine? Your thinking comes straight from the failed US War on Drugs that has created massive social crises around the world and in the US itself.

    • jcdville stormers says:

      She reports on confiscations by the goverment,tò allude anything else is wrong.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      Whether you like it or not, dagga IS a drug that is illegal to do business with. And unless it has been treated to get rid of the toxic substances, it is also detrimental to people’s health; through time it addicts you physically. We have to keep in mind that the law is there for a reason – to now try to deviate attention from that to blame someone else (it does not matter whether it is the USA, Russia, the blacks, the whites, the colonialists, the communists, the Chinese, the Martians . . . the moment you distract attention from your own guilt by the blame game, you are part of the problem and you should address yourself instead.

  • jack braxton says:

    Some good news from SAPS. Drug trafficking should be treated as a crime against humanity and stricter sentences must be applied.

  • Veronica Goulding says:

    Do we believe the police actually get rid of the drugs or do they just get recycled?

    • Val Ruscheniko says:

      Firearms “mysteriously disappear” from SAPS armouries in police stations. So what’s to prevent the same happening to confiscated cocaine? It probably does on a piecemeal basis so as not to attract too much attention.

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