In search of drugs, sex and rock 'n roll

2009-04-12 00:00

Drugs, sex and rock ’n roll. That’s the image most people get when they think of music festivals.

A little naïve to the full value of the phrase, I enter Splashy on Saturday with a view of discovering what the drug scene is all about.

The sex and the rock ’n roll part is fairly obvious to me.

My brother and his girlfriend are on their way to a wedding in Kokstad and so drop me off at the entrance to the festival.

As someone always looking for stories, the site of a dog unit cop car draws me in instantly. Constable Ryno Renier Brawn of the Kokstand Dog Unit tells me his dog Ilana B1847 was a little bored on the opening days of the festival, with only two discoveries of minor drugs being found on dealers.

Needing a lift into the venue, I hop into the dog box, literally. Ilana is a beautiful Labrador who I get to stroke through the bars between us. I must be clean.

I am stared at by people walking past. They must think I have been bust. I try act the part and put on a sullen look. It evokes the desired effect. They look at me with great disappointment at being caught. How had they made it through with their dope hidden in their pillow case, they could have thought?

A person I meet later tells me he hid his stash in that spot and was even checked by cops outside Underberg. "My heart was beating hard; it was right in front of them."

I meet another guy who tells me he knows where one drug dealer is camped and he will take me there later. I never see him again.

I know there are drugs here. But I never see any and begin to think I never will. The strict enforcement by Splashy officials and the presence of police and undercover cops has made dealing drugs a very underground affair.

What isn’t underground in the slightest are people getting drunk. What I found disturbing was the sight of drunk-induced youngsters falling about. A journalist from another daily says she was astounded to see how they acted. "I wanted to call Pedro Carlo and get him to kick them out, they were acting terribly."

After the final act of Goldfish on Saturday I go sit on a rock to listen to drums being played by a bonfire. I am sitting at the same rock that I had asked Brawn and Ilana to pose on. Some acquaintances come to say hello and somehow say something that sparks an outside response.

"Do you guys want ’Shrooms," says a guy sitting nearby. The magic word. Magic Mushrooms – or ’Shrooms – are drugs that evoke a stronger effect than marijuana, but are sometimes poisonous and kill people.

I find myself observing a drug deal. In fact, I find myself physically locked in the middle of the transaction. I feel as caged in as I was in the Dog Unit car.

I ask the dealer about his trade, while his customers argue that R80 a gram is too steep. Answering the curious (me) and the skeptical (the buyers), he says, "I consider myself a horticulturalist. I have a laboratory where I grow these and they are the best you’ll find here."

The buyers leave to get money. The drum beats get louder. The dealer starts to get nervous and attempts to leave, but some people stop him. "They’re coming now, just wait."

When they return the group tightens together. I feel squeezed tight in the middle. The drum beats are playing on everyone’s fears. They feel the presence of big brother watching. The money shakes out of the hand of the buyer onto the seller’s hand. "I want to see the drugs, come, come."

The dealer shows a clear plastic envelope and someone takes it from him. It’s all over. And the dealer vanishes into the crowd. I watch as the drugs are spread on a rock to see what they look like. I take a photo. I then leave. I had come to observe, not to interject.

I leave sunny Splashy on foot yesterday morning, knowing I had learned a little more about the fragility of the drugs scene.

People think drugs ruin a festival. But it is alcohol abuse that may just bring the most destruction. It’s just so hard to identify and tackle.

Drugs are a much easier target.


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