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Khat a growing problem in South Africa

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ImageHassan Isilow

CAPETOWN: Its 2pm on Saturday afternoon in Bellville and several people are lining up opposite the bus station to buy a stimulant called khat which is in its leaf form. Although the stimulant is illegal in South Africa, it has been openly sold on the streets of Bellville over the last three years. According to local residents, authorities in the Western Cape seem to have turned a blind eye on those who sell or chew the leafy substance.

“Once in a while the police comes here and arrests those selling khat, but in a matter of minutes they are released and they return to the streets again,” Muktar Hajji, a street vendor in Bellville told Africa witness. He thinks the police could be taking bribes from khat sellers since they are never taken to court. “I know many families that have been destroyed as a result of chewing khat,” he related.

Many residents here told Africa witness they were afraid their teenage children could become hooked on the stimulant because it is freely available on the market. “I wish police authorities could intensify raids on these dealers and lock them up for good,” Abdalla-Aziz Mustafa, a father of three, said. In South Africa, around 10,000 people from East Africa and the Middle East use khat, but most of its consumers are from the Ethiopian and Somali communities. The illegal drug is planted in Limpopo and transported daily to the Western Cape where thousands of addicts eagerly wait for it. 


Grant Jardine, director of the Cape Town Drug Counseling Center, explained that the fresh khat leaves are chewed to achieve a state of mild euphoria. He added that khat has a stimulant effect similar to that of amphetamines, adding that the drug – which is known to many as simply an African herb – is highly addictive. “Khat is in a leaf form, but it is sometimes processed into a powder form and sold like any other illegal substance,” Jardine explained. He said the addictive leaf comes from a tree called Catha edulis and when it is chewed the user experiences feelings of increased alertness, confidence and a loss of appetite.

A former khat user who wished to remain anonymous said the drug is normally weighed and sold per kilo. 1kg of “Gizaa” – freshly imported khat from Kenya – costs about R350. Locally grown khat appears to be much cheaper at only R40 a kilo, because it is considered to be of poor quality. “I lost half of my teeth because of chewing khat. But alhamdulillah, I have now stopped the practice,” another former addict confided.

According to Jardine, depression and psychological disorders, like psychosis, are common among regular users of khat. The main psychoactive ingredients in khat are cathine and cathinone, chemicals which are structurally similar to, but less potent than, amphetamine; yet result in similar psychomotor stimulant effects.

Meanwhile, when Africa witness was finally able to reach someone at the Bellville police station, we were told that they were not allowed to comment. Asked about the claim of bribery, Colonel Andre Nieuhaus said: “It is not true that we take bribes. The truth is that that we arrest khat dealers almost every week and we plan to intensify our operation.”


In South Africa khat was originally chewed by foreign nationals, but now local South Africans have also bought into it and are chewing the leaves. Experts warn that these leaves are highly addictive and could be responsible for increased crime in the country. But khat is not just a problem in South Africa. In an industrial estate in Southall, west London, thousands of boxes full of khat are delivered every week. The drug begins its journey from the hills of Kenya and arrives in the UK four times a week. It then makes its way to the depot, where dealers buy the herbal high to supply customers across the UK. 

Britain is the only country in the west where the product remains legal. The khat business generates over £400m in revenue for the British economy, and the chancellor of the exchequer also picks up a tidy sum in VAT revenue. Around 90,000 people from the east African and Yemeni communities in the UK use it, especially the Somali community.

But a Home Office report, which will be published on Wednesday, is to recommend regulating the product, and a ban is expected to follow later. Last year, counter-terrorism officers working with their American counterparts arrested seven individuals across the UK. The group – all of them khat traders – were suspected of channeling the proceeds of an alleged smuggling enterprise to al-Qaeda-linked Islamists in Somalia. (This piece was first published by the Voice of the Cape website © reserved)














Written by africawitness

January 23, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Xenophobia

Somalis celebrate US recognition

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By Hassan Isilow

JOHANNESBURG: It is a Thursday evening in Mayfair – also known as little Mogadishu among Johannesburg’s residents. A group of middle aged Somali men are seated in a restaurant quietly listening to a televised announcement made by the US secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, recognizing the new Somali government led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. 

“I am extremely happy the United States has finally recognized our new government. I believe the US  government will now help Somalia in terms of  developmental aid which is much need for the reconstruction of our ‘wrecked’ institutions, such as education, health, infrastructure and human resource development,” Bashir Yunus, a Canadian-Somali currently doing business in South Africa explained.

Most of the Somali men seated in this restaurant related that they were closely following political developments back home. “I think the new US/Somali relations will make other world powers to also recognize the new Somali government, because the US is a world power and almost every nation in the world emulates them,” 56-year-old Yahaya Noordeen related.

The excitement and optimism was not limited to Johannesburg. The same sentiments were shared in Cape Town where the largest Somali community in South Africa resides. “The US recognition of the Somali government will pave the way for other countries to follow suit and start diplomatic relations with Somalia,” Ahmed Bodibodi stated confidently.


He was now looking forward to the day when the US government would establish an embassy in Mogadishu which will make it easy for Somalis wishing to travel to the United States to get visas. He added that currently Somalis wishing to travel to the United States have to go to Nairobi in Kenya or Kampala in Uganda where the US has embassies. This, he said, was too costly for most Somalis.

Washington had not recognized a Somali government since warlords toppled dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. But in making her announcement on Thursday, Clinton said times have changed, citing the armed group al-Shabab’s retreat from every major Somali city. She said the US had provided $780m to African forces to help fight the militant group.

The White House also expressed optimism about Somalia’s future and pledged to work with the country’s new government to promote peace and security, improve the economy and boost social services. Obama has urged his Somali counterpart to “seize this unique opportunity to turn the page on two decades of civil strife”, according to a White House statement.


“If the Somali government wants to succeed it should not be seen to be overdoing it in siding with the west. This could lead to the return of al-Shabab who has a hatred for the west,” Andrew Attah Asmoah, senior researcher on Horn of Africa at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) told said on Friday. He said recognition will help Somalia receive greater assistance from US and international aid agencies.

Asmoah also noted that the recognition was good for Somalis who live in the Diaspora as this would allow them to be viewed as people from a recognized state, compared to current stance where they are seen as people from a failed state. He said the new relations between the US and Somalia will lead to economic development and prosperity for Somalia. The US recognition of Somalia comes barely one year after Turkey recognized the new Somali government. 

Meanwhile, last year Britain organized the London Somali conference aimed at discussing ways of ending the two decades of civil war in Somalia. Several leaders attended the conference. Prior to the conference British foreign secretary William Hague also met with the Somalia community in Cape Town where he sought their views that was forwarded to the London conference. ( This piece was first published on the vocfm website)








Written by africawitness

January 21, 2013 at 10:54 am

Posted in Travel

Tagged with , , ,

2 more Somalis killed

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By Hassan Isilow

CAPETOWN: The New Year began on a sad note for the Somali community in the Western Cape when two more Somali traders were killed by gunmen who have yet to be identified or captured. The first victim was Mohammed Abukar Mo’alim, a 30 year old shop keeper who was murdered on Monday at his shop outside Wynberg. “Mo’alim was killed by unknown gunmen as he served customers inside his tuck-shop about 10pm on the outskirts of Wynberg,” Abdi Jidow, chairman of the Somali Community Board (SCOB) in the Western Cape, reported.
Speaking to Africa Witness on Wednesday, he was of the belief that the motive behind Mo’alim’s murder was purely criminal. “I believe those who killed Mo’alim were robbers who knew he could identify them so they decided to shoot him before stealing cash, cigarettes and other items from his shop.” Jidow ruled out the possibility that the murder could have been committed for xenophobic reasons.

Crime vs. Xenophobia

Meanwhile, on Tuesday another Somali national, Abdulkarim Hussein, was gunned down in Mitchells Plain. “I don’t know why the victim was killed, because residents of Mitchells Plain have always been very friendly and welcoming to the Somali community,” Abdullahi Ali, a Somali analyst living in Cape Town stated. He explained that Somalis are mainly targeted because of business jealousy from local traders who often accuse them of selling merchandise at lower prices. “Somali traders are very enterprising, so the local business people in townships hate them. Hence the continuous murders we are seeing,” he stated.
However, other community analysts believe that criminals view Somalis as soft targets. “Somalis often carry around huge sums of money, airtime and cigarettes which have made them a soft target for criminals. So we should not always attribute attacks on Somalis as being xenophobic because there are also other motives behind these attacks,” said Keisar Ali.
Last year 45 Somali nationals were murdered in townships across the Western Cape, which was significantly lower than in 2011 when it was reported that 60 Somalis were killed. “We are shocked about the endless killing of our nationals,” Amir Sheikh, former secretary general of the Somali Community Board (SCOB) said on Wednesday. ( This Piece was originally published on VOCFM)

Written by africawitness

January 11, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Xenophobia

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