Cry, the beloved Eldos

2013-05-12 14:00

Eldorado Park in southern Joburg is being torn apart by drugs and terrifying levels of violence that have driven its residents indoors and sent its children into the arms of ruthless drug dealers. Athandiwe Saba reports.

‘My fear is that youth is being wiped out. This (drug) stuff is in your face.’

The boy is nervous.

He is sitting on a white couch in Dereleen James’ neat home in the heart of Eldorado Park.

He twists his hands, keeping his head down and occasionally stealing glances at his grandmother while she talks about all the times he’s come home high.

The boy is eight years old.

“The last straw for me was when he came home high the other night. He didn’t want to tell me at first where he got the drugs. As I was about to beat it out of him, he told me that two older boys gave him dagga,” says his grandmother. Her eyes are swollen from crying.

The granny’s daughter, the boy’s mother, is a drug addict who is pregnant again.

“I had nowhere else to turn,” she says, explaining how she and her grandson came to be taken in by other Eldos residents who work with her as local crime fighters.

“I can’t leave these kids with (my daughter), she’s the one who sends them to buy her drugs as if they are going to buy a loaf of bread.”

She first realised her grandson was taking drugs when he came home one evening with eyes glazed over and reeking of alcohol.

That was the first time she beat him up, but he never told her what happened.

The little boy, wearing an orange T-shirt and navy blue tracksuit pants, is silent throughout his grandmother’s story.

“We suspect that these older boys are using him to bust into people’s houses. Look at him, he’s tiny and can get into a window to open the door from the inside,” she says.

“He says he doesn’t remember ever being asked to steal anything but how can he, when they feed him dagga laced with cat (the street name for recreational drug, methcathinone)?”

A question comes from Liesl Valloo, one of the women working with James to try and repair Eldos. She is talking about the drug cat.

“When his (the eight-year-old’s) grandmother brought him in on Thursday night, he was swaying side to side, so unbalanced. He couldn’t even speak properly. What are they doing to our children?”

Still, the little boy is silent. When I ask him his name, he cracks a smile. His eyes are not hard yet. He is still a child.

This story is not unusual here.

Eldorado Park has appeared frequently in daily newspaper headlines over the past week, and its plight has set talk radio station lines alight.

It all started when James wrote an open letter to President Jacob Zuma, begging him to help Eldos residents fight the wave of tik, dagga and cat that has overwhelmed them.

She is the mother of an addict son, aged 17, who has done everything to get drugs – from selling his clothes to tormenting his mother and grandmother, and selling household items like James’ hairdryer.

The hairdryer was, in some ways, the straw that broke the camel’s back. James realised that she had to get actively involved in reclaiming the streets of Eldorado Park.

Now, she and a group of women – there are no men involved – patrol the streets and dumpsites looking for addicts and runaways.

“We’ve just recently taken away a 12-year-old who is on a substance. The parents don’t know what to do any more – they’ve also given up on him,” says James.

“That’s what we are faced with here in Eldorado Park.

“My fear is that the youth is being wiped out. My fear is that when we get old, are we going to have any doctors, any teachers?

“This place has far exceeded Cape Town in terms of the number of children who are abusing drugs. Everyone here is on a substance.”

Her 17-year-old is back in rehab.

“The first time I sent him to rehab, he came back clean but in a few weeks he was back at it. The transport he took to get to school was where he got the drugs from. He spiralled back down. This stuff is everywhere, it’s all in your face.”

Women are not just leading the fight against drugs. They are the suburb’s victims, too.

Tracy-Lee Martins was 28 years. She will not celebrate her 29th birthday because, on April 27, she was murdered in front of her three-year-old child.

Martins’ father, Andre Balutto, says she kept to herself because she knew what lay behind the walls of many homes in Eldorado Park.

He says: “She knew what the neighbourhood was about. Even if it was raining cats and dogs, she would not accept even a lift from the community forum guys whom she knew. She just didn’t want to get involved in anything with the community.

“My take is that because of her lack of association with the people in the area, they decided to attack (her).”

A group of men killed her, but only one suspect has been charged.

Four others were released after it was found there was lack of evidence.

The killers took Martins’ handbag, her two cellphones and a camera.

Balutto says: “I want to help in eradicating this problem, which I think stems from the unemployment in the area.

I contacted Dereleen to see where I could be of assistance.

“I want to buy the house where this (the murder) happened to donate it to these ladies to turn it into a safe house. I don’t want my daughter to have died in vain.”

Both he and his three-year-old grandson are going for counselling.

Back in James’ lounge, a recovering addict (24) tells me about the suburb’s “lolly lounges”.

It’s a deceptively jolly name.

These lounges are filthy rooms in which men trade tik, cat and dagga for sex with addicts.

Some of those addicts, the 24-year-old woman says, are underage. “I ran away from home a few years ago and ended up in Newlands, where I made friends with drug dealers and users. That’s how I got hooked on tik.”

She speaks candidly about spending time in these lounges. “This one time I was there, I spoke to a 14-year-old who didn’t want to go home.

“Her parents and teachers came to ask for her everyday but she would hide away. All she wanted in this world was that drug.”

It also seems women are not just the crimebusters and victims in Eldos. They are the villains, too.

The 24-year-old recovering addict adds: “I know some of the lounges are owned by ‘madams’ who trade the bodies of children to men to sustain everyone’s habit.

“When a man comes in for drugs, he can ask to sleep with any of the girls and the madam will even give up her own room and no one dares open that door until the man is done.”

The woman tugs her oversized pink jersey.

Her baby bump isn’t visible yet.

The eight-year-old remains silent.

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