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SA’s drug dons — where are they now plus the political suspicions surrounding them

SA’s drug dons — where are they now plus the political suspicions surrounding them
Vicky Goswami arriving in the US in January 2017. (Photo: DEA) Nelson Pablo Yester-Garrido. (Photo: Alleged Sexy Boys gang boss Jerome Booysen. (Photo: Supplied)

This three-part series details what has happened to some of the most pivotal local and global players suspected, accused or convicted of playing a role in shaping South Africa’s narco-landscape. Politics also affects these arenas.

This year marks the most critical elections in South Africa since 1994 and beneath anticipated political shifts is the expectation that gangs will undergo somewhat parallel changes.

It is not a farfetched notion.

The lines between gangsterism and politics in South Africa have definite overlaps.

And those intersections are where the illicit drug trade can flourish.

Some of the world’s most pivotal — and unabashed — drug traffickers have operated via South Africa.

Take, for example, Johannesburg-based drug dealer Glenn Agliotti who had a corrupt relationship with former national police chief, Jackie Selebi.

Read more in Daily Maverick: From South Africa to Sinaloa: Jackie Selebi and the ‘parallel’ US drug trial of Mexico’s ex-cop boss

The top cop, who became a convicted criminal, also once headed the global police organisation Interpol.

State Capture suspicions

Both Agliotti and Selebi are now dead but their legacies, involving criminals and corrupt government officials, live on in South Africa.

State Capture suspicions and corruption are recurring themes underpinning drug crime accusations.

Allegations in these circles also point to how drug networks created decades ago may still impact this country.

While it is known that the apartheid government produced drugs, increasing threads of narco-dealing suspicions suggest those fighting that regime also dealt in Mandrax to make money to fund their actions.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Ears to the ground’ will help monitor possible WC gang violence on election day – IEC

Those suspicions lead back to Zambia, where several ANC figures were exiled when the party was banned during apartheid.

Zambia also happens to be where Jacob Zuma, who has never been formally accused of drug crimes, became the ANC’s intelligence chief.

He now backs another political party, the uMkhonto we Sizwe party.

Last month ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri emphatically denied the ANC had ever been involved in drug dealing, telling Daily Maverick it was “sick” that such “lies” were being referenced in 2024.

She added that it was “a blatant disregard to the struggles the ANC waged” in the fight to liberate South Africa.

Key figures

This three-part series details what has happened to some of South Africa’s biggest local and international drug dons — suspected, accused or convicted.

  • Part one delves into India’s Vicky Goswami, a Mandrax trafficker who testified in the US a few years ago that he was among a group trying to dominate South Africa’s narco-trade. Goswami was previously in Zambia and claimed he met ANC leaders there and gave money to the party. In 2019 he revealed astounding secrets about South Africa’s drug trade in a US court.
    Other figures in Goswami arenas include Muhammad Asif Hafeez, a Pakistani suspect who claimed to be a US spy, and a globally wanted terror accused Dawood Ibrahim, who may have been in this country several times and whose name featured in a gold smuggling documentary exposé suggesting that he met an individual allegedly linked to Zuma and the Guptas, who are at the heart of State Capture accusations, in South Africa.

  • Part two looks at unlikely twists and turns connected to Cuban kingpin Nelson Pablo Yester-Garrido, who based himself in South Africa while facing enormous drug accusations emanating from the US. This piece also focuses on the booming cocaine conduit between South Africa and Brazil.

(Graphic: Rudi Louw. Research: Caryn Dolley)

  • Part three deals with some of South Africa’s most dangerous gangs, including the 28s, and how drug suspicions, some linked to India back when this country was an early democracy, set a strong foundation for them to operate on. Suspects in this broader arena include several Cape Town-based individuals. For example, Jerome “Donkie” Booysen, as well as the late Colin Stanfield, of The Firm notoriety, and his nephew Ralph Stanfield, who now stands accused of various crimes.

Dawood Ibrahim

Alleged terrorist Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar as pictured on an Interpol red notice. (Photo: Interpol)

Drug trade secrets

Dragging behind several other high-flying trafficker names are suspicions of dubious political partnerships and foreign intelligence operatives infiltrating criminal networks across their borders.

The US, in particular, seems to be sitting on a bolstered safe containing fresh and ageing politically tinged narco-trade secrets involving South Africa.

Read more in Daily Maverick: US digs deeper to reveal South Africa’s links to global drug trafficking networks

This is because the US has arrested drug kingpins who operated here — Goswami and Yester-Garrido included — and to whom South Africa seems to have turned a blind eye.

With elections in this country this year, its drug trade secrets will probably become more valuable.

Another factor that could see those secrets increase in worth is this country’s standing with other states.

In terms of the US, its relations with South Africa took some strain recently because America views this country as siding with its adversaries including China, Russia and Hamas.

Read more in Daily Maverick: New US Bill calls on the Biden administration to review America’s relations with SA

On 21 February President Cyril Ramaphosa seemed to smooth over the situation.

He met a US delegation in Cape Town and of that, he said: “Our relationship is characterised by mutual respect and a willingness to engage in constructive dialogue even on issues where we may differ.”

Other countries tightly linked to South Africa’s drug networks include India, Kenya and Brazil.

Different drug dons and intelligence operatives possess key information about narcotrafficking in, and via, South Africa.

They may be sharing some, or all, of what they know with authorities in this country, as well as from others.

It is yet to be seen whether politics is a key that unlocks and confirms some of those secrets — or keeps them stashed away so that the public never truly knows who exactly crafted South Africa’s narco-landscape. DM


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