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Zombie drug Flakka arrives in South Africa

By Campbell Easton

A bottle showing drugs spilled on a table.

The drug is powerful, cheap, and potentially deadly - photo by the Drug Enforcement Agency

On May 26 2012 in the Omni suburb of Miami, Florida, Rudy Eugene attacked a homeless man named Ronald Poppo. Eugene, who was naked at the time, beat Poppo until he passed out. Eugene then removed Poppo's pants and proceeded to cannibalise his face. The attack was captured by low-quality security footage which can be found on YouTube. Eugene hunches over Poppo for 18 minutes, only relenting when he is shot dead by police. The attacker came to be called the Miami Zombie, and a police investigation would suggest that he had been high on a family of designer drugs known as “Bath Salts” or “Flakka”. Now authorities are claiming that the drug, or one like it, has arrived in South Africa.


In Chatsworth, Durban, last weekend three men were hospitalised after taking Flakka. It has been reported that one of the men bit a chunk out of a woman's arm. Another suffered cardiac arrest, but was resuscitated soon afterwards. Once the men were able to respond, they were questioned by Durban police, and an arrest has since been made.


Flakka or Gravel is the street name for α-PVP, a powerful stimulant with a similar active ingredient to the Cathinone found in the drug, Khat. The drug can cause intense euphoria and excitement, as well as spontaneous physical sensations. However, it has been proven to cause overstimulation, hallucination, and intense paranoia, resulting in the exaggerated reactions and outbursts which made the drug famous.


Speaking after the events in Durban, director of the Anti-Drug Forum South Africa Sam Pillay told Talk Radio 702 that “once it takes effect, it's like being possessed, demon-possessed. These users had almost demonic-like behaviour and it took about six men to restrain just one person. This drug has been called the ‘gateway to hell’ because of the actions of the user. It is like they have superhuman strength.”


Flakka first entered the public consciousness in 2015, when a series of bizarre Flakka-related incidents were posted online. The first came when a man tried to kick down the front door of a police station in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, the second when a man impaled himself on a security spike while trying to enter the same police station. Later there was the Fort Lauderdale streaker, who ran naked through the streets of Miami in nothing but sneakers.


Videos of the drug and its intense side-effects are incredibly popular across social media. On YouTube videos of some incidents have close to 10-million views. Searches for the drug on Google Trends reveal interest in the drug beginning in March 2015, with peaks around major incidents in August 2016, and again in October 2017.


Videos of the drug reveal its horrendous effects. In a grainy cellphone clip from Brazil, a man convulses, repeatedly smashing his head against the windows of a bus. In another clip a man rolls around the ground, while the camera pans to show a vehicle crashed through a brick war. In every video the subject is clearly disoriented and incoherent, moving in a way that recalls the clumsy yet violent zombies of pop-culture.


In South Africa the drug is believed to cost between R400 and R1000 per hit, which is then snorted or smoked. Dyan Williams, head of social media and marketing for the Houghton House Addiction Recovery Centre, says that the popularity of the drug online would not be driving its arrival in South Africa. “We are aware of the incident in Durban, and another in Pretoria, but we've had no patients so far,” she said. “When you watch the videos online, I don't think people who see that would want to look like that. The people taking it are likely already addicts.”

Flying a Mavic drone in training in Johannesburg

Drones In Africa 

Johannesburg -  South African aviation authorities have approached the issue of drones as a formal aviation sector project, whereas some other states in the region are still considering their laws. 

On their official website,  the SA Civil Aviation Authority describes drone as Remotely piloted aircraft" (RPAS) which means an unmanned aircraft which is piloted from a remote pilot station, excluding model aircraft and toy aircraft.

The def

"Toy aircraft" means a product falling under the definition of aircraft which is designed or intended for use in play by children.

"Model aircraft" means a non-human-carrying aircraft capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere and used exclusively for air display, recreational use, sport or competitions.

Acceptable uses of RPAS

For private use – 

(a)   The RPAS may only be used for an individual's personal and private purposes where there is no commercial outcome, interest or gain;

(b)   The pilot must observe all statutory requirements relating to liability, privacy and any other laws enforceable by any other authorities.

For all other use –

(a) an RPA must be registered and may only be operated in terms of Part 101 of the South African Civil Aviation Regulations. 

Dangers of negligent operation of an RPA:

Collision with other aircraft, with possible fatal results

(a)   Collision with other aircraft, with possible fatal results

(b)   Injury to the public

(c)   Damage to people's property 

(d)   Legal liability for breaking laws  such as privacy by-laws and other laws enforceable by other authorities. 

Do's and Don'ts


DO NOT, through act or omission, endanger the safety of another aircraft or person therein or any person or property through negligent flying/operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or toy aircraft. 

Do not fly/operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or toy aircraft 50 m or closer from:

  1. Any person or group of persons (like sports field, road races, schools, social events, etc.)

  2. Any property without permission from the property owner. 

Unless approved by the SACAA, DO NOT fly/operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft or toy aircraft:

  1. Near manned aircraft

  2. 10 km or closer to an aerodrome (airport, helipad, airfield)

  3.  Weighing more than 7 kg  

  4. In controlled airspace

  5. In restricted airspace

  6. In prohibited airspace.

Do not fly/operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or toy aircraft higher than 150 ft from the ground, unless approved by the Director of Civil Aviation of the SACAA. 



  1. Fly/operate Remotely Piloted Aircraft, or toy aircraft in a safe manner, at all times.

  2. Remotely Piloted Aircraft or toy aircraft should remain within the visual line of sight at all times.

  3. Fly/operate RPA in daylight and clear weather conditions.

  4. Inspect your aircraft before each flight.

NOTE: The Director of Civil Aviation has designated an external organisation to oversee the operations of recreational aviation. 

For more information on the operation of model aircraft, please contact the South African Model Aircraft Association (SAAMA),

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