Eswatini’s E2bn Cocaine market shocker!

By Phephile Motau

Shockingly, with about 14 400 Cocaine addicts, Eswatini has a thriving market for cocaine amounting to over E2 billion per year.

This is according to a report titled ‘A Powder Storm- The Cocaine markets of East and southern Africa’ which was released by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime in December 2022.

According to the report, apart from cannabis, the drug most used in the Eswatini drug market is Cocaine, both in its powder and Crack form. A gram of powder cocaine ranged in price in the local currency, the lilangeni, from a low of E250 (€14) to a high of E600 (€32). 

The price for Crack Cocaine saw a multitude of price points ranging from E250 for a ‘slop’ of 0.5g, which is mostly consumed by injection, to a larger ‘full moon’ that weighs 1.5g, costs E1 500 (€81) and is smoked. The mean national retail price per gram of powder cocaine was estimated at E 500 (€27), and that for crack cocaine was estimated at E1 000 (€54).

According to the report, there were an estimated 14 474 people who use Cocaine (Crack or powder) and they consume 3.3 metric tonnes per year. This means that if all the users used only powder Cocaine for the year, the market would be worth E1.65 billion. If all used only crack cocaine, they would spend up to E3.3 billion per year on the drug.

Most Cocaine was smoked or snorted nasally, according to the research. Cocaine injections were done primarily with Crack, most notably in and around Nhlangano. The median volume of Cocaine ingested by a regular user per day was estimated to be 1.5 g for those who used powder cocaine, and two grams for those who used crack cocaine. 

This means that those who use powder Cocaine can spend up to E1 000 per day on the drug. On the other hand, those who use crack cocaine can spend up to E2 000. For perspective on how Eswatini domestic cocaine pricing relates to the wider range of drugs available on the local market, it was compared with the price of a gram of heroin, which ranged from E250 (€14) to E400 (€22).

The report states that information on Cocaine market structures across the region, distribution and use characteristics were generated from focus group discussions with more than 1 000 people who use drugs (PWUD) and personal interviews with more than 1 700 informants, including more than 400 drug couriers and distributors, 70 high-level drug importers, and 40 law enforcement personnel. 

The research was conducted in 2020. Across the surveyed countries, the drug was present in two primary forms: Powder Cocaine and Crack Cocaine. Powder-form cocaine is the hydrochloride (HCL) salt; crack Cocaine is a crystallized form of cocaine HCL, generally made by combining Cocaine HCL with water and sodium bicarbonate (i.e. baking soda). The mixture is boiled until a solid is formed. 

Once cooled, the solid is broken into small pieces, often called rocks or stones. The name ‘Crack’ comes from the crackling sound made by the small crack ‘rocks’ when they are heated and smoked in a pipe, the most common way of consuming it.

The report further stated that the embedded presence of Crack Cocaine in a domestic market was often a sign that there is a stable supply of Cocaine Powder. As a commodity, Crack is cheap, easy to produce and simple to use. It can be sold also in smaller amounts (than powder) to a wider proportion of the population, particularly within lower-income sub-populations of a domestic market, and at a much greater profit. 

It was further revealed that the importation of Cocaine into Eswatini was controlled by a small number of high-level importers, most of whom also deal in the importation and distribution of Heroin. 

“Unsurprisingly, the capital of Mbabane is a central node for the importation and distribution of the drug in the country,” the report states.

It was further revealed that cocaine was imported overland through the country’s border crossings with South Africa and Mozambique. 

From Mozambique, the Cocaine originates from shipments offloaded along the Pemba to Nacala coastline, as well as through Maputo International Airport. From South Africa, the Cocaine is drawn from larger shipments arriving at Durban’s port for onward distribution to regional and international markets. 

The report further states that Cocaine that is imported to Eswatini appears to be intended almost completely for local consumption. The country has a large domestic Cocaine-using population, relative to its size. Interviews failed to identify any onward movement of cocaine through the international airport, although a transit flow from Mozambique through Eswatini to South Africa is likely but is an as-yet-undetected scenario.

It was stated that Cocaine arrived in Mozambique by sea and air directly from Brazil. Shipments arrive as well by way of offshore exchanges from a ‘mother ship’ to smaller fishing vessels, which then transport the cocaine loads to beaches along the Pemba to Nacala shoreline. 

From there the Cocaine is collected and delivered to nearby private warehouse facilities for storage. The loads are often repackaged into smaller shipments for distribution by trucks moving through Nampula and then south to Maputo and Eswatini and most importantly, to South Africa. 

The report states that the annual Cocaine consumption estimate did not account for purity, thus the estimated total volume of cocaine consumed should not be interpreted to mean consumption of ‘pure Cocaine’. 

“As in most markets, Powder and Crack Cocaine both are regularly and heavily adulterated prior to their distribution for retail sale to end consumers. As a result, while a gram of Cocaine at the end-consumer level will contain some volume of pure cocaine, this will exist alongside a varying proportion of diverse additives and other bulking agents,” the report states.

Cocaine usage has devastating effects – Psychologist 

Cocaine usage can lead to anxiety, depression, and psychosis in the long term. This was said by Psychologist Phephile Sukati. She explained that Cocaine was a stimulant and increased brain activity, leaving people in a state of euphoria. Sukati said it was possible for a person using Cocaine to get ahead in the workplace because of the increase, but the effects in the long term were devastating as cocaine was addictive.

She said most people who used Cocaine for a long time got hallucinations due to psychosis. Sukati said most of them suffered from tactile hallucinations, which was a form of hallucinations that made one feel like insects were crawling under their skin.

She added that people who were addicted could get help from professionals including those at the National Psychiatric Hospital. She said she also recently qualified as an addiction specialist.

Sukati said it was unfortunate that the country did not have a proper rehab facility where people could get help as a treatment for Cocaine addiction required one to be in such a facility. She said the country had a Christian-based rehab, which would not work well for non-Christians.

She said this was because addicts suffered from withdrawal symptoms which needed to be dealt with at the rehab facility.

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