Illicit Drugs in Southern Africa

There is not much dispute as to the main problematic illicit drugs in the region, although there may be disagreement as to the relative magnitude of harm attributable to each type of drug.
Cannabis is the most common, probably followed by mandrax, then cocaine, heroin, hashish, crystal methamphetamine (usually known as tik) and ecstasy.
Also known as marijuana, cannabis is the only drug which is locally cultivated – all others being either imported from elsewhere or manufactured in drug laboratories.
Cannabis has been grown in mountainous Lesotho for centuries. It is currently also produced in parts of Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
There is controversy as to the proportion of output consumed within the region compared with what is exported beyond it.
The impact of cannabis exchange transactions on violent crime does not appear to have been substantially documented.
The little that is known is derived from anecdotal cases from other parts of the world.
These indicate that much of the violence is associated with measures to either evade detection by law enforcement agencies or to protect production from theft by competitors or opportunistic thieves.
 Producers equip themselves with firearms of various types and strength, or with machetes and knives.
The link between cannabis consumption and aggressive behaviour, leading to violent predatory crime, is better established.
Violence, aggression, and criminal offences such as robbery and housebreaking are common among adolescent substance users.
Mandrax has been circulating in Southern Africa since the early 1980s, having originated from Southeast Asia.
There have been changes in the modes of mandrax procurement over the years, partly in response to demand and partly to evade greater police vigilance.
Much of the mandrax encountered in the region in the last decade has been locally manufactured in drug laboratories.
The same can be said of the amphetamine-type stimulants tik and ecstasy.
Cocaine is smuggled to Southern Africa from production sites in South America through various strategies and routes.
Heroin and hashish predominantly have Southeast Asian origins, in many cases Afghanistan, India, Myanmar or Pakistan.
These countries are still considered to be the foremost producers, with Afghanistan and Myanmar the leading sources of opium.
* This article has been excerpted from the report by Charles Goredema titled “Drugs and violent crime in Southern Africa” for the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa.

July 2013
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