This excerpt from Dead Cows for Piranhas Extract has been published with permission from JonathanBall publishers and is available at all leading stores.

About the book:
Journalist Hazel Friedman was on assignment in Thailand to document the stories of the increasing number of South Africans convicted as drug mules when she made a horrifying discovery. Many of the drug traffickers are in fact decoys.

Through the heartbreaking accounts of the prisoners, Friedman became convinced that the decoys should not be viewed as perpetrators of narcotics trafficking.

She concluded that many drug mules are victims of human trafficking – as pawns readily sacrificed in a profit-driven war waged by the omnipotent global drug barons.

Excerpt below:


There remains an abiding myth among many South Africans that organised crime (and its most lucrative income generator, narcotics trafficking) is primarily a feature of post-apartheid South Africa.

The recurring refrain goes something like this: greater openness, weakened policing and porous border controls, as well as incompetence and corruption in the public sector have created a parasitic relationship between South Africa and international crime.

On one level, this is true, but the explanation conveniently ignores the fact that the stage had been set decades before the end of apartheid for the consolidation and expansion of an indigenous criminal underworld operating within and beyond our borders.

The reality is that the major difference between ‘pre’ (BC) and ‘post’ (AD) is the diversification of the narco-menu and its merchants.

Before 1990, South Africa’s drugs trade was predominantly based on mandrax and locally produced marijuana.

At the time, the sights of law enforcement were too closely set on the colours of red (ideology) and black (ethnicity) to take much heed of the hues of green ganja and white pipes.

This colour selectivity rendered the authorities extraordinarily inattentive to the risk posed by international traffickers, who flocked to the country from Eastern Europe, India and the rest of Africa, particularly during the 1980s.

It also rendered law enforcement wilfully colour-blind to the illicit activities of our boys protecting our borders. During the decade spanning apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa, some of my information had been gleaned from the most authoritative verbal libraries.

These included local watering holes and the most reliable of informants, prompted by Jack Daniel’s and Johnnie Walker, not to mention other entertaining lubricants. Such spirited company regaled me with riveting accounts of larceny, committed at the bidding of the apartheid government.

Among them were inebriated malcontents from 32 Battalion turned Executive Outcomes; Civil Cooperation Bureau assassins who reinvented themselves as reptilian private investigators; diamond and drug pirates from Port Nolloth; shit-faced ex-Selous Scouts and French Foreign Legion members; as well as legless, but now harmless, former Koevoet recruits who still refer to South West Africa and Rhodesia with teary-eyed nostalgia.

These former combatants fervently believed that PW Botha’s stroke of misfortune heralded the sell-out of southern Africa to the wilderness. (In fact it was PW who landed up in the Wilderness, literally, in the Western Cape’s Garden Route.)

In reality, southern Africa, and some countries further north, had been sold out long before then: of timber, diamonds, gold, ivory, rhinos and marine resources.

And, of course, drugs.

Organised crime was as ingrained into apartheid as the Mixed Marriages and Group Areas acts.

More than 100 front companies involved in state-sponsored criminal activity were uncovered during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Access to many of the secrets of the apartheid state and its subsidiaries, however, has been obstructed by the shredding of documents, particularly military and intelligence records, which occurred before 1994.

Some of those tens of thousands of records do still exist in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania, and even in Russia, buried like acorns before the hibernating season, stashed abroad as insurance policies by resourceful double agents and former bureaucrats.

But the blades of the shredding machine cannot obliterate the data processed and stored by human memory, particularly of those who operated within the murky terrain of intelligence gathering and dissemination – either on behalf of apartheid or against it. Sometimes the twain would meet.

To my knowledge, however, no list of spies in high places in the liberation movement, those activists involved in alliances of convenience with their arch-enemies, has ever been made public.

Too many newspaper reports linking the doyens of freedom with free-market kleptocrats have become incomplete dossiers, while those accused continue to cavort publicly with the cream of criminal society.
What I do know is that some of the crimes seeping like rising damp from one era to the next, committed by apartheid’s apologists, mweren’t even that well organised.

They were opportunistic, avaricious and downright crude, aided and abetted by proponents of civil war intent on stuffing their already bulging pockets (and body parts), while planning acts of sabotage should the ‘commie terrorists’ assume the mantle of political power.

Much has already been researched and written about state institutions like the Broederbond, which choreographed leadership roles in the most influential tiers of the private and public sectors, and flourished through corruption, capitalised on the arms and oil embargoes against South Africa, and whose members amassed vast amounts of money in overseas tax havens.

Studies have also been conducted on the boere mafia, a moniker coined to describe politically conservative criminal cartels.

These local Afrikaner mobsters modelled themselves on John Gotti, the American gangster who became the boss of the New York Gambino Mafia.

They formed an unholy trinity with crooked apartheid-era banks, which laundered their dirty lucre without so much as a raised eyebrow, and members of the security forces with an entrepreneurial bent.

It was the latter, in cahoots with their right-wing political connections who became deeply embroiled in ivory poaching, gunrunning, diamond and gold smuggling, and drug trafficking – primarily in dagga and mandrax.

According to experts on criminal cartels and their methods of enterprise, these crime syndicates share several characteristics, including a hierarchy and designation of control; sophisticated fronts or legitimate business interests, established to launder their illicit gains; and a ruthless, take-no-prisoners approach to enemies and competitors alike, unless a deal was brokered with the latter, whereby the ‘market’ would be divided between rival syndicates.

In addition to apartheid-era crime syndicates there were also individuals without any political or ideological allegiances, who, for pure financial gain, smuggled consignments of dagga or mandrax
via Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and Zambia, bound for the international market.

Some were known by names that would be appropriate in the pages of a modernised Damon Runyon story: George the Duke, Stan the Man and Kaptein Caprivi.

Few of these ‘Goodfellas’ were busted or did time. Many made millions and built legitimate careers in asset management, car dealerships, the taxi industry, second-hand clothing and even game farms from the proceeds.

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