‘I was a teenage whoonga addict’

2013-08-15 00:00

I STARTED smoking daga in Grade 4 and Mandrax in Grade 7. I’m 18 years old and from a Pietermaritzburg township. I started smoking whoonga in 2009 when it first came to Pietermaritzburg. I was in Grade 9 at Alexandra High School and addicted to Mandrax at the time.

I tried whoonga at the suggestion of a friend. It made me really high. I went to a restaurant in town with my friend, but I couldn’t eat and I slept at the table. I wasn’t thinking straight. I wanted it again. I woke up and felt fine the next day. I smoked it again at break time at school and after school.

After smoking it every day for a week, I woke up and my stomach felt bad — it felt like something was eating me up. My friend said I was addicted to whoonga.

We would buy it at Matsheni — a market in East Street, where you can get other drugs like Mandrax and dagga. My parents didn’t suspect that I was a drug user because I’ve always had red eyes, even as a child. I was expelled from Alexandra High School for dealing in dagga and went to Nomaswazi High School in town. My parents reduced my daily allowance to R20, just enough for taxi fare. But I had lots of friends, and I travelled on the taxis for free and used the money on whoonga instead. We had it delivered to a toilet in West Street for R20 a straw. There were five other kids. Whoonga affected me at school. I was a troublemaker in class and was just scraping through academically.

In 2011, I started robbing people. My other whoonga friends didn’t have homes and they were robbers. I enjoyed being with gangsters. They were not working, but were getting money for drugs.

I started to work with them, to rob my school friends. I would pretend to walk home with them and the other guys would be waiting to rob us. I would pretend to be robbed, too. Then I would go to Matsheni, and get my phone and other stuff back, and then we would sell their stuff. I enjoyed getting money.

But my school friends were becoming suspicious. They were asking why I was always with people when they got robbed, so I stopped. Then my gangster friends helped me to rob children from other schools.

The cramps were very bad in the mornings. They make you do crime. I stole from my mother. She loved me so much and she believed me when I said it wasn’t me. But then she started to lock her room.

I had learnt to drive in Grade 6. I often used to wash my neighbour’s car, and one day I noticed a new car in his yard. I saw someone come and give him money, and take the car away. I asked him about it and he said he would teach me how to steal cars. We went to Hilton and stole a car. He gave me R2 500. I was in Grade 11.

I disappeared from home for two weeks, went to Matsheni and bought straws for R700. I went to stay with a friend who lived in an outbuilding in Imbali.

For two weeks, we were smoking every day from morning till evening. We smoked maybe 20 times a day. I got highly addicted. I felt dizzy and would just sleep. If we tried to watch TV, it would make me dizzy. When the money was finished, I went back home. I told my parents a story about my friend being sick. They were very angry and didn’t believe me, but they were happy that I was still alive.

Then I acquired a special Allen key. It had been altered so that it fitted in some car locks. I pretended I was going to school, but instead I went to Pick n Pay in Victoria Road with my friend to look for a car. We found a Mazda 323, which we unlocked and started. We were high. You can still think straight as long as you are not too high.

I didn’t tell my neighbour that I was going to do this and he was shocked when I arrived with a car. He sold it for R3 500 and gave it all to us. I decided to stay at home because I would get into trouble if I ran away again. In the mornings, I would go to school, then I would go to Matsheni in the afternoon and smoke whoonga. The money lasted three weeks. We were sharing it with everyone.

I created a car-stealing group with three other boys. We were all still at school. We stole cars for the whole of last year and no one had any idea.

My neighbour would sell them for us. Then he died. We stole a car to be used at the funeral. I remember I had just finished my exams that day. We stole the car in our school uniforms.

Another car thief was at the funeral and he said he would help us. He promised us whoonga if we stole cars for him.

My mom heard I was stealing cars, but she believed me when I said I wasn’t. In the community, I was seen as a good boy. I looked respectable on the outside. I went with her to church twice a week.

I sometimes hurt people when we hijacked them. We didn’t shoot them because it made too much noise, but we hit them on the head. Sometimes we took them to places where we tied them to the trees. We were always high when we did it. I didn’t feel bad at all about hurting them. I always had money.

I started not sleeping at home. My friends and I were looking after the home of my boss in Imbali. He had gone to Newcastle. No one knew where I was, but I was within walking distance of home. We had a car to use and were stealing cars every night. We went to Scottsville, Howick, Hilton, Chase Valley and Cascades Mall.

We were stealing six to seven cars a week. Depending on the car, we would get up to R4 000, and R7 000 for a bakkie. We were enjoying it. We always had money and whoonga. We had everything we wanted. It was freedom to us.

In December 2012, I went home. The police were looking for us. My parents moved me to a rural town because I said I needed to get away. I went to stay with my aunt. But I needed whoonga. I got cramps and started stealing from my aunt’s shop.

I would go back to town and buy enough whoonga to last me the week. I was smoking about 10 times a day. I wasn’t feeling good. If I tried to eat when I was high, I would vomit, and when I wasn’t high, I would have cramps — so I couldn’t eat. I was getting thin. The rat poison in the whoonga made me dark and my mother noticed. She took me to a doctor who told her I had a drug problem and told her about a rehabilitation centre in Durban.

I didn’t want to stop, but I was forced to go to the Jullo Addiction Treatment Centre in Durban. They did a drug test and found traces of whoonga. They told my parents, who were shocked.

Even though I knew about the ingredients of whoonga, I thought it was healing me because it made the cramps go away. I was at the Jullo Addiction Treatment Centre for three weeks. When I was discharged, I was prescribed methodone for the heroin addiction.

In the meantime, I had passed Grade 11, but had been expelled from Nomaswazi for drug use. The headmaster said we were a bad influence.

At the beginning of 2013, my parents sent me to a school in Durban. In May, I came to Pietermaritzburg and got back together with my whoonga friends on the day I arrived. My parents had forgotten to buy the methodone syrup and my cramps had come back. Everything started again in May and I began stealing cars again.

I hurt my parents a lot. I saw whoonga was killing me and my life had become unmanageable. I wrote a letter saying I wanted to quit. This year, the car-stealing group had grown to 10, but the members were all finding their lives with whoonga unmanageable and wanted to quit. Some had left home and some had done horrible things. They were all still in their teens, but they were just sitting at home because they had dropped out of school.

It’s difficult for whoonga addicts to quit if they don’t have money because rehabilitation is very expensive — and so are the drugs that they need to take after they leave rehabilitation.

It’s also very hard to give up the lifestyle. Lots of gangsters think it’s enjoyable because they have cars and easy money. And once you start with whoonga, you won’t have any friends who are good.

Whoonga is a huge problem and you can find it everywhere. It’s in every township and even in the rural areas. I’ve been to jail three times — the longest time was for one month.

To stay away from whoonga, I need to keep myself busy. At home, I get bored and I need friends. It’s easy to go back to the group.

I’m feeling a bit scared about going home from rehabilitation. My plan is to go every day to the crèche, where my mom works as a teacher, and stay there the whole day and just play with the children. I love children. I’m feeling positive because I was the one who decided it was time for a change.

I want to tell my story because I want to be motivated and come out in the open. It will help my recovery. I don’t want to go back to using drugs. I don’t miss my old life.

* Not his real name.

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