Beware! Your property could be a secret drug lab
Criminals prefer farms and other remote sites whose owners are oblivious to the operation under their noses
SA property owners are unwittingly leasing their smallholdings and houses to drug manufacturers who are turning them into narcotics laboratories.
In recent months police have swooped on a number of clandestine home-based drug operations, mainly in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
In one case a drug lab was found in the rural hinterland of Harding in southern KwaZulu-Natal. It was disguised as a sheep farm‚ but there was not a single woolly animal on the entire 10ha plot. Mandrax and lab equipment valued at nearly R250m were seized there.
A key item that was seized is a “dispensary book” detailing consignments delivered from the drug lab.
Five people were arrested after special police units raided a “clandestine” drug laboratory on a plot south of Johannesburg in June.
A “fully equipped clandestine methamphetamine (tik) manufacturing drug laboratory” was dismantled in the Meyerton Farms area.
Research by the Institute for Security Studies suggests that SA syndicates are now exporting the drug to countries like Kenya and Nigeria.
Pretoria-based security specialist Mike Bolhuis, who runs an anti-drug project, said there had been a drastic increase in clandestine drug labs recently.
According to the latest national crime statistics, released on Tuesday, drug-related crimes rose from 292,689 in the 2016/17 period to 323,547 in 2017/18.
According to Bolhuis, drug manufacturers and distributors “conduct thorough research before commencing with such risky behaviour”.
“They identify an area/neighbourhood that meets their needs and usually find a site that will not draw attention if chemicals are mixed and cooked.
“The chemical smell is very sharp and will draw unnecessary attention; therefore it is better for them to identify a remote site like a farm.“
Many criminals approach a property owner to discuss rental options, Bolhuis said.
“They then offer more than the going rate and prefer not to be concerned about banking details – it is here where one should become suspicious. The thankful owner rents the property without further investigation.”
According to Bolhuis, they don’t live on the rented property but usually visit late at night or on weekends.
“CCTV cameras on the premises are considered a bonus during the cooking process of these labs as the criminals can immediately see an impending threat.
“These criminals are part of organised crime and are extremely vigilant. They know exactly which vehicles should be in the area or street ... Any perceived threat will lead to a change of address and destruction of the lab.”
Bolhuis warned that property owners could lose their properties “should a drug lab be found on your premises”.