Pubdate: Mon, 07 Jul 2003
Source: Daily News, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2003 The Daily News.
Author: Tania Broughton
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)


They see it all, the teenage "rave bunnies", dreadlocked rastafarians, down
and out Mandrax smokers and smooth, often well-dressed druglords.

It's only been three months since the doors of Durban's drug court opened
for business.

Already staff there have finalised about 600 cases, something manager Mark
Dyson and specialist drug prosecutor Ronel Dookan are extremely proud of.

"It is triple that of any other court, except perhaps the traffic court
conveyor belt," says Dyson.

It was Dyson's lobbying that got the court going in the first place.

Involved in prosecution for 18 years, he remembered the "old days" when drug
cases were channelled to one court because even then, they were regarded as
sufficiently serious to warrant special attention.

"In the early 80s, the court only really saw Mandrax and dagga cases, but in
the mid 90s hard drugs such as cocaine and Ecstasy hit the scene and the
drug problem has since escalated on a drastic scale," says Dyson.

At that time, the court in which the drug cases were heard had been
converted to the reception court. So these cases were being re-allocated to
the general district courts and prosecuted by junior and inexperienced

Last year Dyson was the national prosecuting authority representative at a
UN drug trafficking seminar.

There he learnt that most developed countries had tackled their drug problem
using specialised courts and his mind was made up: Durban needed one.

"The drug problem is not just restricted to the cases we see in our courts;
it has huge criminal spin-offs such as the cellular telephone theft industry
and the sex trade which are often controlled by Nigerian syndicates."

In fact, says Dyson, a recent survey conducted by the Institute of Security
Studies found that more than 40% of arrested people tested were found to be
positive for drugs.

Management agreed, Dookan was appointed as a specialist prosecutor and
Magistrate T Maistry was assigned to the bench.

That was in January. Since then it has made a significant impact on the
investigation and prosecution of drug related offences.

Every single drug case - from possession of the smallest amount of dagga to
the syndicated trafficking in heroin - is handled by the team.

In one hour last week, two dagga smokers pleaded guilty and were fined R200
or 20 days in jail.

Then there was a Nigerian who said he smoked Mandrax "because of the
stress". His case was adjourned for the prosecutor to ascertain if he was in
South Africa legally.

Then came the dreadlocked Psychology Khumalo, charged with possession of 26
"slopes" of dagga.

He was convicted and sentenced to a fine of R2 000 or two months in jail.

A Zairian drug dealer, was sentenced to a straight 14 years for dealing in
heroin and cocaine.

Magistrate Maistry has a reputation for being "tough" and, if it warrants
it, has no qualms about dishing out robust sentences.

One of the spin-offs of the specialist court has been the development of a
close working relationship with the police units dealing with drug
enforcement which has forged itself into a prosecution-driven investigation

They work closely with the asset forfeiture unit as one of their goals is
the confiscation of drug trafficking gains.

The drug court team also envisages bringing social workers in to deal with
the problem of abuse and addiction.

"Dealing with the greater drug problem is not just about breaking down
syndicates and removing dealers from society but also to assist those whose
lives have been affected by drug use," says Dyson.

"We want the court to send a message to the community that we are serious
about dealing with the scourge of drugs that is wrecking our society and if
people are going to engage in these activities, then they will have to face
the consequences."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Josh