Simone Haysom, a senior analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, which is part of Enhancing Africa’s response to the transnational organised crime project, said South Africa’s heroin crisis was extremely serious and was taking a big toll on communities.
It is an EU-supported project that monitors and develops responses to transnational organised crime in Africa.
Haysom said the rapid emergence of the thriving industry had gone largely undetected by the police and the government, despite there being more than 100000 users.
She said the industry’s annual turnover was likely to be billions of rands.
“The problem is made worse by a poor drug policy and the neglect of marginalised communities,” she said.
Haysom released a report on South Africa’s heroin problem last month, which was released by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on Thursday.
The report found that heroin use developed across the country in both major cities and small towns, which showed an important shift in local drug markets and which was underappreciated in the public discourse.
Haysom said while the report was welcomed by those who observed and responded to the criminal underworld in the region, they encountered scepticism among some observers.
“Heroin is not the only lucrative drug that drives these markets, but our interviews suggest it has become a substantial feature of local drug markets.
“In fact, to a significant degree heroin is a key commodity underpinning the criminal economy in South Africa, and has facilitated the expansion of the criminal economy.
“Interviews for this brief were conducted with people close to the heroin economy: dealers, users, health professionals, outreach health workers, law enforcement officials and gang members,” Haysom said.
The interviews were conducted in Cape Town, Tshwane, Durban and Nelson Mandela Bay, between August and December last year.
The EU’s deputy head of delegation to South Africa, Raul de Luzenberger, commended the project for its field research on the threat to the social, economic and political fabric of South African society.
“In particular I am pleased to note the collaboration with people working on drug policy, harm reduction, health care and criminal justice.
“The report highlights the weaknesses and gaps in policy, with a number of important recommendations,” De Luzenberger said.
SA Drug Policy Week founder Shaun Shelly said the government’s response to the heroin crisis should include public health initiatives, and address the causes of community vulnerability to drugs and gangs.
“Heroin use is increasing, and we are not prepared for it,” Shelly said.