From the Wrong Side of the Tracks...CHAPTER 18 | Sierra Leone

I heard a rumour that there was a different way to earn good money. It was said that in three months, you could earn the same as a year’s salary working for the police force in South Africa. I looked into it and found out that it constituted working as a guard on a diamond mine in Sierra Leone. An overseas company was looking for South Africans to join them. One of my old school friends contacted me, told me he just got back from working as a guard on the diamond mines in Sierra Leone and he was flushed with money. Enough for a year. He further told me the working conditions were shit, and it was dangerous. As a cop in South Africa at the time, you were not allowed to have a second job. I applied for a three-month contract in Sierra Leone. When I heard my application was successful, I took three months’ unpaid leave from the police.

For the first time in my life, I found myself in an African country, not bordering my own country. My friend was right. It was shit. The living conditions were poor. The job was dangerous. Every second night we were involved in fire fights against rebels wanting to overrun the mine. They wanted to take over the mine, and the diamonds mined there. The little wars we had with the rebels were not the main issue as all the guys guarding the mine were ex-military from different countries and well trained. It was the sanitation, food and medical conditions which were little to non-existent. One guy lost an eye because of a ricochet bullet that struck him under the eye. He was not flown out for medical attention and a few days later, he got an infection. The infection became so bad that the wound started to smell. He was eventually taken to a hospital, but it was too late to save his eye.

After two months of working on the diamond mine, a few of us had enough of the shit conditions. We bribed the Helicopter Pilot stationed on the mine to fly us out to a town with an airport. From there, we made our way back to South Africa. Of course, we first made sure that our salaries were paid before we left.

Anti-Corruption Visit

Arriving back in East London, I had a nice stack of money and, like every other cop would do, I bought myself a nice vehicle. Not long after that, the Anti-corruption unit came knocking at my door. I was only a sergeant at the time. They wanted to know how I could afford a vehicle like the one I bought on my sergeant’s salary.

I suppose one of my colleagues was a bit jealous and reported me to the Anti-corruption unit. In all the time I was out of the country or before I left for Sierra Leone, I never told anyon where I was going. Therefore, it must have looked suspicious that all of a sudden, the sergeant was now driving a better car than the Major ranking above him.

I told the Anti-corruption guys that came knocking, my grandfather died and left me with an inheritance. That was, of course, a lie, but they never checked up on that.

Amoure Kleu Author, Andre Els Chapter 18, From the wrong side of the tracks, Sierra Leone

Posing with colleagues and the dagga bags we confiscated after arresting a dagga syndicate.

Drug Syndicate Squad

Back at work, I started working on the dagga (cannabis) syndicates. Bag loads were brought into across the South African border from the former Transkei homeland. Transkei had become independent, and no longer formed part of South Africa. They used six cylinder vehicles, and we had to chase and arrest them on the smuggle routes. Most of the time, the chase was on a dirt road. Now and then, a brave smuggler with a lot of faith in the speed of his vehicle would challenge us on the tarred highways.

The speeds we travelled at chasing them on the dirt roads would send shivers down the spine of many a rally car racing driver. The smugglers had one thing on their minds. To get away and avoid sitting many years in jail, if arrested.

We, on the other hand, had to make sure we do not damage the state vehicles and get home alive. Because the smugglers had spies all over watching the smuggle road, we travelled at night without lights on the dirt roads. We also disconnected our state vehicles’ brake lights to avoid being noticed by these spies. Sometimes we would spend a week on the road, waiting for the smugglers. At night we parked our vehicles next to the smuggle road and sat listening for the beat of a smugglers six cylinder coming down the road. They used the same methods we did at night and drove without lights.

We were partnered in twos, working together in a vehicle. We would take turns sleeping during the night. In time, you came to know your partner better than your wife or girlfriend. We lived out of the trunks of our vehicles. Your box of food contained coffee and sugar. When we passed small towns, we would buy bread and meat to prepare on the gas stove we had with us, which had a place in the trunk. That would be our evening meal. We bathed in rivers or dams.

Being in the drug squad, we dressed in jeans and any type of casual shirt. We quickly learned that during the winter months the jeans became so cold whilst out on the road, it felt like ice touching your legs. So jeans were swapped for corduroys during those months. The temperature in the Stutterheim and Bolo area would drop to far below zero in the winter months.

We arrested many smugglers on those roads. Surprisingly, during my time at SANAB, none of our members were ever involved in any serious motorcar accidents during a chase. That was a miracle in itself. But to their credit, the guys knew how to drive and they knew those roads very well. My partner and I had a 2.8 GT Nissan Skyline police vehicle. Hardly any smuggler vehicle ever outran us. Ok, only once. It was an 8-cylinder Ford Fairlane. It still hurts today, thinking about it. But, back to my story. Our police vehicle was fast, and it had a little extra under the hood thanks to a police reservist friend of mine that used to be a motor mechanic. He did a bit of a modification on the engine.

During one of our weekly outings on the road, we had our Skyline in the police garage for a service. We were given the use of a 2-liter Ford Sierra that came from the liquor squad. It was the only vehicle available. It was as slow as a snail compared to our Skyline.

But beggars couldn’t be choosers. During our second day on the road, we were filling up with fuel at the Bolo police station situated right next to the dirt road used by the smugglers. It was about 14h00 in the afternoon. Whilst busy refueling, a brown LDV came driving past the police station at high speed. I only had a glimpse of the vehicle, but the sail on the back covering something caught my eye. I shouted at my partner to jump and we started our chase. The LDV had a fair lead on us, but we followed the dust cloud in front of us. There were many uphills and turns on this particular piece of road. It felt as if we were not gaining on this vehicle during the chase.

I was cursing the old ford Sierra. Even with my foot flat on the accelerator, it was just dead. About thirty kilometers into the chase, we noticed the LDV parked in the middle of the road. The driver was gone. We checked the load underneath the sail and there were nineteen bags full of dagga. We searched the area, but our smuggler had disappeared into thin air. I was furious. Kicked the Sierra’s tyres and cursing the police for the shit vehicles they gave us to do our job with. I was just mad.

We searched the vehicle inside and I noticed a nice finger print on the mirror. We found a medicine bottle with a doctor’s name and address on it, as well as a date and the name of the medicine. The address was a clinic in Isipingo in Kwazulu Natal. I noticed that the date was two days prior. There were some fingerprints on the bottle. That was a bonus. I started to feel better. My partner found a cold drink bottle on the vehicle’s floor. We took the vehicle, with its load, back to the Bolo police station to book it in as exhibits. I told my partner that I would drive the LDV back to the police station. The smuggler did not even take the keys out of the ignition when he made a jump for it. I started the vehicle and immediately heard that it was not running on all cylinders. I opened the hood and found that one of the plug wires came loose. That was obviously why he stopped and took off. His vehicle had started to lose power. If only he knew how we battled to catch up with him.

At the police station, we checked the registration number for ownership. It was registered under the name of an old lady in Queenstown and the vehicle was a Fiat and not an LDV. The engine number on the LDV was filed off. We contacted a fingerprint expert, and he came out later that night and lifted prints from the mirror, the medicine bottle and the cold drink bottle. The next morning, we left for further investigation to Isipingo in Kwazulu Natal.

Amoure Kleu Author, Andre Els Chapter 18, From the wrong side of the tracks, Sierra Leone

My partner and I with the vehicle loaded with Dagga bags that nearly got away

Arriving there, we tracked down the clinic and the Indian Doctor that prescribed the medicine. He remembered the patient and checked his register. He gave us an identification number and name and description of the patient. We took his statement and left. Three days later we arrested our man in Uitenhage. He pleaded not guilty but his finger prints corresponded with the prints we had and the doctor came to testify that the medicine, in the medicine bottle we found in the vehicle, was prescribed by him to the man standing in the court as the accused. He was found guilty and received a 9-year prison sentence for dealing in dagga and 3 years for being in possession of a stolen vehicle.

Working on the syndicates, we had to use many different methods to combat the influx of drugs into the South Africa. We quickly learnt that the pocket of the smuggler is the most important factor with which to cripple them. By that I mean if you could hurt him financially, you would keep him busy and off the roads buying and smuggling drugs. The smugglers made a study of the guys working at the drug squad. They observed our offices, and they took note which of our vehicles were parked at the offices or courts during the day. They knew the vehicles we used to lie in wait for them along the smuggle routes. So, they would know who was in town and who was on the roads. They studied us as we studied them. We also knew which vehicle belonged to which syndicate.

One of the methods they used was to transport the dagga bags in their vehicles from a certain spot where they bought it in the former Transkei home land. It was close to the South African Border Post at the Kei Bridge between Mthata and East London. They would offload the dagga bags on the Transkei side and get carriers (unemployed locals) to carry it across the border, which was the Kei River into South Africa. The carriers would hide the bags close to the road. They knew we would be hiding somewhere, observing them from behind an office window at the border post or somewhere from a mountain with binoculars. After the smugglers’ vehicle crossed the border into South Africa, they would check the roads for any Drug squad vehicles before loading their haul of bags back into the vehicles. Crossing the border, they would have no problem, as they had no drugs in their vehicles. That is what they thought. We would search their vehicles at the border post and if we found even one pip from the dagga plant that fell out into the vehicle, we would arrest them, charging them for possession of dagga. It may sound like a waste of time, but what we were doing was taking the smuggler out of circulation for a while. He would be detained, his car would be confiscated. To get out of jail and attempt to get his vehicle back, he would have to hire a lawyer and all of that cost money.

There were nasty rumors and allegations spread by the smugglers that if one of their vehicles broke down next to the road and were abandoned whilst they went to fetch help, members of the drug squad on patrol would damage the broken-down vehicle by throwing sand and gravel into the engine block. The tyres and windscreens would be slashed and smashed. There were even allegations of some of these vehicles having been set alight. But as I said, it was just nasty rumors and unfounded allegations by the smugglers.

Amoure Kleu Author, Andre Els Chapter 18, From the wrong side of the tracks, Sierra Leone

My partner and I, with the 53 bags of Dagga we seized

Early one morning whilst working on the road near a small town called Komga, my partner and I stopped a Pantechnicon from a well-known hauler’s company. We asked the driver to open the back doors. As soon as the doors opened, the very distinctive sweet scent of dagga came floating out. On closer inspection, we found 53 bags of dagga hidden between the cargo in the back of the truck. We arrested the driver and his passenger. Upon weighing the bags, it totaled 1425 kilogram. The value on the black market back then was estimated at 1, 4 million rand. Both the driver and his passenger were found guilty and were sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment.

Amoure Kleu Author, Andre Els Chapter 18, From the wrong side of the tracks, Sierra Leone

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

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