The photograph of a Malawian woman staring at a mass of debris that once was her property in Rosettenville in downtown Johannesburg does not make for comfortable viewing. She looks anxious and desperate and lost standing among heaps of blackened rubble in a burnt-out room. Elubey Mwalwen lost all her belongings on Saturday after a mob of angry residents in Rosettenville burnt to ashes everything her and husband Albert Mwanza had worked hard for over the past four years. The mob also beat Mwalwen and her husband who was accused of being a Nigerian drug dealer.
When the throng of angry residents realised they had made a mistake: they fought amongst each other instead. Mwalwen and Mwanza and their 18-month child escaped the mob but lost much property in an act of sheer madness. "Tonight, I do not know where we will go. I will most likely have to spend another night in the streets with my wife and child unless I can get some money and find a room to rent," said Mwanza as he held his baby.
I have much sympathy for the residents of Rosettenville: everyone would like to live in a safe and healthy environment – free from the degenerate deeds of drug-pedalling gangsters, seedy pimps, strung out drug addicts and pot-smoking prostitutes.
The drug game is dirty, vicious and murderous and notorious for shattering the dreams and lives of the most vulnerable members of our society. But why the mob chose the house Mwalwen lived in is debatable. Residents say it was a drug den. Since it is owned by a Nigerian man and occupied by immigrants from Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, xenophobia may have motivated the onslaught and inadvertently fogged the seriousness of the subject matter at hand.
Concerned residents say a bottle store on the premises was being used to sell illegal drugs. So there are people who do support the vigilante form of justice that rocked the neighbourhood last week. "We are happy about how the community is dealing with this drugs and prostitution thing. We both have kids and when we step outside our homes, we are confronted by prostitutes and guys selling drugs on every corner. This is not a good environment for our kids," said a resident.
But how does a Nigerian drug dealer build a drug den in Rosettenville without the help of a community of South African people from all walks of life in Johannesburg and other people from beyond our borders? The drug trade is a multidimensional billion-dollar business which spans the globe; so a run-of-the-mill drug dealer selling drugs in a drug den in Rosettenville or standing on the pavement on a busy street in Yeoville is pretty much like a particle of soil in a big mound of foul-smelling dirt: he or she is simply a wholly disposable two-bit player in a mammoth enterprise valued at roughly US$320 billion a year.
We all love to focus on the details that affect our locality, but frequently lose sight of the elephant in the room: the South African enablers who help smooth the way for drug dealers to operate in South Africa. The facilitators give dear life to the illegal trade in narcotics as street dealers are highly dispensable and have fewer vested interests in the illegal drug trade.
Without helpers: how do drugs get past customs and police checks and land up in drug lairs in places like Rosettenville? A cartel of dodgy locally based actors who hold strategic and influential jobs in law-enforcement, finance, warehousing, distribution and shipping should be behind the distribution of drugs in South Africa. We should investigate why children choose to experiment with hard drugs at an early age and find themselves hooked on all sorts of substances before they have even left high school. Where do kids get money to buy drugs and form dangerous habits from – for example? We can of course blame crooked Nigerians for promoting illegal drugs but there are South African citizens – young and old – who are willing and able to buy and consume voracious amounts of highly toxic high-priced drugs to the detriment of their health and wellbeing of society at large.
And look at Mwalwen: did the mob in Rosettenville burn her belongings because she is a foreigner or can her loss be described as collateral damage left in the wake of the war on drugs? This is a monumental setback for the migrant who works at a local car wash. The mob looted property from the Ethiopian-owned tuck shop next door after they had burnt Mwalwen's property. So there are no innocent beings when it comes to the physical and emotional trauma illegal narcotics can cause to consumers and lookers-on alike. Addicts themselves are to blame for the drugged-up scenario in Rosettenville: we all make choices – good or bad – and they do have consequences for us down the line.
Drugs do nothing but destroy the fabric of a community in ways unobserved and unheard-of most of the time. The winners in this perpetual war on humanity are the faceless drug lords and landlords who profit from the devastation of life in Rosettenville. And the perennial losers are the residents of Rosettenville and people like Mwalwen: law-abiding South Africans and foreign nationals.
The residents of Rosettenville have also raised allegations of child prostitution – a nine-year-old girl was allegedly found to be working as a prostitute. How kids so young end up in the hands of drug dealing pedophiles is unclear – suffice it to say: money is the root of all evil; and those despicable men and women dealing in drugs and human flesh will stoop low, very low indeed – in their pursuit of dirty money. Children have parents and relatives: where are they? Let us rise above this wantonness and fight hard to destroy the drugs trade – for we are all a part of the struggle in Rosettenville.