Drug Abuse in the Global Village
Drug Abuse in Africa
South Africa


Extent of Drug Abuse

The combination of methaqualone and alcohol is reported to be the most frequently abused mixture of drugs, with 1.5 million annual abusers and 100,000 daily abusers.  Cannabis is reported to be the next most abused illicit drug in South Africa, with an estimated number of 50,799 annual abusers and 15,000 daily abusers, followed by volatile solvents with 1,132 annual and 600 daily, and sedatives with 1,054 annual abusers. Other drugs abused include narcotic analgesic preparations, such as those found in cough syrups which may contain codeine, heroin, opium, morphine, hallucinogens, cocaine or amphetamines (ARQ 1993).

Abuser Characteristics

According to registries of drug abusers, about 16% of cannabis abusers are women (ARQ 1993).

            A study of an urban population, aged 14 years and over, revealed that about 65 per cent of the males and 83 per cent of the females abused pain-relievers in 1990, 5.3 per cent of the males and 0.6 per cent of the females abused cannabis and 1.6 per cent of the males and 1.7 per cent of the females sniffed solvents (Rocha-Silva, 1991).

                         Regional Variations

Previously, drug abuse was mainly manifested in metropolitan areas, but it is now reported to be increasing in rural areas (ARQ 1993).


There is a significant increase in the abuse of diverted licit substances (such as volatile solvents and licit medical drugs). In addition, increases in the availability of illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine and diverted
licit drugs, such as  methaqualone and "Wellcanol", dipipanone hydrochloride, a synthetic narcotic analgesic are also reported (ARQ 1992). There is a sharp rise in confiscations and arrests relating to drug trafficking.  Methaqualone is also smuggled in increasing quantities into the country where it is very often taken with alcohol.  There has been a sharp use in the number who abuse this combination of drugs (ARQ 1993). 

            The increase in the consumption of diverted licit drugs and illicit drugs is attributed to unemployment, family disintegration, decline in religiosity, urbanization, changes in attitudes in the community and peer pressure (ARQ 1993).

Mode of Intake

Heroin, cocaine and amphetamines are injected.  Cocaine is also sniffed.  "Wellcanol", which is, normally, administered orally, is pulverized and injected (ARQ 1993).

            Cannabis is smoked and ingested, but is also smoked with methaqualone, a combination known as "White Pipe".  Other drugs ingested include opiates, coca paste, amphetamines and sedatives.  Hallucinogens are taken orally while volatile solvents are inhaled (ARQ 1993).


The cost of treating drug abusers is an estimated 80 million rand per annum (ARQ 1993).


National Strategy

Drug control policy is coordinated by the Drug Advisory Board, according to the Prevention and Treatment of the Drug Dependency Act. The Drug Advisory Board was preceded by the National Advisory Board on Rehabilitation matters (NABOR) which functioned until December 1992 (INCB 1993). The South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence coordinates prevention activities at the national level (ARQ 1993). The National Information System for Social Welfare (NISWEL) is the national drug data collection focal point. Hospitals, the Central Statistics Service and various government authorities also collect drug related data (ARQ 1993).

      Structure of National Drug Control Organs

The central government unit responsible for liaison and coordination of national drug control policy is the Department of National Health and Population Development.



                           Treaty Adherence

South Africa is party to the 1961 Convention as amended by the 1972 Protocol and the 1971 Convention. For the 1988 Convention, drug-related legislation was drawn up in 1991 to be tabled during the 1992 parliamentary session. Furthermore, the Drug Advisory Board, a statutory mechanism to coordinate all Government authorities involved in implementating the provisions of the 1988 Convention and thereby expedite accession to the Convention, was established.  The Committee will establish how and in which section the provisions of article 12 will be performed. Within the South African Narcotics Bureau, a money-laundering and a chemical unit, were created.

  Measures Taken with Respect to Drug Control

Recently enacted laws and regulations:
A Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act was enacted in 1991 in order to bring South African legislation in line with the international control measures of the 1988 Convention.

Licensing system for manufacture, trade and distribution:
There is a government-controlled licensing system for both narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. However, some substances in schedules III and IV of the 1971 Convention are not subject to the licensing system but to other control measures. Codeine, fentanyl, morphine, pholcodine and safentanil (all narcotic drugs) and alprazolam (psychotropic substance) were reported being manufactured in 1993.
Control system:
(i) Prescription requirement: There is a prescription requirement for supply or dispensation of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
(ii) Warnings on packages: The law requires warnings on packages or accompanying leaflet information to safeguard the users of preparations containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
(iii) Control of non-treaty substances, if any: None reported for 1993. In 1990, 2 non-treaty substances were put under national control: 4-methylaminorex was not to be possessed or used except if the Director-General of the Department of National Health and Population Development issued a permit for use of the substance for analytical purposes. Similarly, nabilone could only be used upon approval by the Director-General to a medical practitioner for the treatment of a particular patient.
(iv) Other administrative measures: 1991: In order to urge compliance with conditions set for receiving import or export permits, import and export permits were refused to importers and exporters of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances who did not comply with the permit conditions. A year earlier, importers and exporters were requested to sign a declaration to the effect that they personally endorse the control measures as laid out in the Medicinal and Related Substances Control Act and the 1961 and 1971 Conventions.

                            Social Measures

Penal sanctions related to social measures: In 1993, courts applied measures of treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation or social reintegration for a drug-related offence both as an alternative and in addition, to conviction or punishment.

Other social measures: None reported in 1991. In 1990, particular attention was paid to the implementation of the National Plan to Prevent and Combat Alcohol and Drug Abuse in South Africa, which was approved by the Government in 1989. Organizations working in the field of alcohol and drug abuse were activated to support the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking as well as the United Nations Decade Against Drug Abuse.


Primary Prevention

The media has been active in promoting drug prevention messages, mainly awareness programmes aimed at the whole community (ARQ 1993).

            Prevention programmes are ongoing at all levels of education, for example, the Youth Project by the Centre for Intergroup Studies, Horizon, Youth 2000, Peer Counselling, SANCA Life Skills and Youth Outreach. The Horizon Project is a life-skills training programme, through which information on alcohol and other drugs is provided, in order to help children make responsible decisions.  Leisure time activities in the service of the continuing campaign against drug abuse, such as physical training, organized sports activities and camps, organized by churches and other cultural groups, target school children, as well as youth and adults (ARQ 1992,1993).

            Drug education training programmes are part of the education of law enforcement personnel and in-service training is available to information officers (ARQ 1993).  

            Employee Assistance Programmes in the work place, provide drug related programmes to employees in need (ARQ 1993).

Treatment and Rehabilitation

Treatment and rehabilitation services are based on a "holistic" approach.  Treatment facilities include 5 general hospitals, 4 psychiatric hospitals, 1 specialized detoxification facility, 28 treatment centres, and most provincial hospitals, all of which provide detoxification facilities (ARQ 1993).

            In 1992, 9,217 persons were treated in 28 treatment centres and 410 in specialized detoxification facilities; the majority of patients in both cases were males (ARQ 1992). Around 87% of the white abusers treated in State and other registered rehabilitation centres were for alcohol-related problems. About 4% were treated for other drug-related problems and 9% were treated for a combination of alcohol and other drug-related problems (ARQ 1992).

            Detoxification, drug-free counselling, outreach programmes, self help groups, support to families of drug abusers and emergency aid centres are offered to drug abusers, drug dependent abusers and members of their families. The staff working with drug abusers include social workers, psychologists, doctors and nurses, all of whom have undergone drug related training. Social reintegration services include job finding, and/or accommodation in halfway houses and elsewhere in the community, counselling services to former drug abusers and their families (ARQ 1993).

            All prisons provide general medical care, detoxification, counselling on drug related diseases, general education, social reintegration and religious care (religious services, small group work, personal interviews) to drug abusers.  Some prisons provide drug counselling, vocational training and psychological treatment for alcohol and drug abusers (ARQ 1993).


Arrests, Convictions and Types of Offenses

In 1991, 7,011 persons were arrested for drug possession, and 11,502 were arrested for drug dealing.  Most cases involved cannabis and methaqualone (ARQ 1992).


In 1991, 680,024 kg of cannabis herb, 4,016,400 kg of cannabis plants, 38.826 kg of cocaine, 0.262 kg of heroin, 1,619 units of LSD, and 1,963,418 units of methaqualone were seized (ARQ 1991).

            A 1994 UNDCP mission report, suggests significant increases in cannabis, cocaine and methaqualone seizures in 1993.

                      Supply Source of Drugs

South Africa has become a transit country to Europe, for drugs such as methaqualone. Some of the drugs are consumed locally (ARQ 1992).  Reports suggest that, during the past two years, a number of controlled deliveries of LSD, cannabis and methaqualone have been effected between Europe and South Africa (ICPO/Interpol 1993). ARQ reports confirm drug trafficking activities, especially methaqualone, cocaine and heroin (ARQ 1993).

            South Africa is considered a significant cannabis producer, according to a mission report. Some is also imported from neighboring countries (e.g. Lesotho and Swaziland), but most is locally produced (UNDCP 1994).

            Illicit trafficking in and the abuse of methaqualone is significant in South Africa. It is believed that most methaqualone seized in South Africa originates from India, but some is locally produced.  It is difficult to estimate the proportion of the local production (INCB 1993).

            The principal sources of cocaine are Brazil, among other South American countries. Cocaine trafficking via Angola and West Africa is increasing.  Heroin is imported mainly from South East and South West Asia, often via Zambia.  And LSD originates predominantly from UK and, to a lesser extent, from the USA (UNDCP 1994).


References and Notes

ARQ 1991,1992, 1993.  Replies to the UNDCP's annual reports questionnaires for the years 1991, 1992 and 1993.

ICPO/Interpol (1993), "Illicit Traffic in Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, Africa 1990 -1992", paper prepared presented at the 12th African Regional Conference, Harare, 10-14 May 1993.

INCB (1993), Report of INCB Mission to South Africa, Zambia and Kenya presented at the Fifty-fifth session of INCB, Vienna 1 - 18 November 1993..

UNDCP (1994), South Africa Mission Report, mimeo.

Rocha-Silva, L. (1991),  Alcohol and Other Drug Use by Residents of Major Districts in the Self-Governing States in South Africa. Pretoria, Human Sciences Research Council.


** The Legal, Administrative and Other Action Taken to Implement the International Drug Control Treaties section was prepared by the Secretariat of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs based on annual reports questionnaires for the years 1989-91 and 1993, and the Statement made at thirty-seventh session by the distinguished delegate for South Africa, Commission on Narcotic Drugs.