Addicts plead for help

2019-07-08 15:56
Mondli Mbanjwa and Mvelo Dladla (centre) chatting with Mayor Themba Njilo at the City Hall on Friday.PHOTO: Nokuthula Ntuli

Mondli Mbanjwa and Mvelo Dladla (centre) chatting with Mayor Themba Njilo at the City Hall on Friday.PHOTO: Nokuthula Ntuli

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Whoonga addicts living on the streets of Pietermaritzburg say they have become slaves to drugs and want help to rebuild their lives and reconnect with their families.

They were speaking during a meeting that was called by Mayor Themba Njilo at the City Hall on Friday.

He also invited representatives from the local Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Social Development (DSD), and Ward 27 councillor Manqoba Ngubo.

“I invited you to this meeting because I want you to know that not everyone has given up on you. We are here to help because we know that you are more than just your addiction. We must help you fight it so that you can reclaim your lives,” Njilo told the addicts.

While he was disappointed that only about 20 responded positively to his invitation, he said it was probably a blessing in disguise as it might be best to start working with a small group to see if the intervention is working or needs to be adjusted.

Apparently others did not come because there was a rumour that Njilo was working with the police to ambush them and send them to prison.

Some of the addicts were shy and did not want to speak.

Mondli Mbanjwa (31), from Impendle, has been living on the streets of Pietermaritzburg for close to a decade. He said he left home after his family kicked him out when he sold all his possessions to support his addiction.

“When I first came here, I would come in the morning and leave in the evenings but after a while all the money that I made would go into buying drugs.”

He only returned home once after he was discharged from hospital where he was treated for two gunshot wounds he sustained when he and his friends tried to mug someone. He said his family welcomed him with open arms and even tried to help him stay off the drugs.

“When I was home my friends came and gave me drugs and said it would help with the pain. I even managed to get a job but when I got my first pay I only bought a small packet of chicken to give to my family and I spent all my money on drugs so they kicked me out again.”

Mbanjwa said a few years ago he tried to raise enough money to buy methadone as he was told that it could help him wean himself off whoonga, but it was too expensive as it cost close to R500 at the time.

“I couldn’t deal with the pain that comes with the withdrawals so I ended up using that money to buy drugs,” he said, casting his eyes on the floor to hide the tears that veiled them.

A talented potter, Mvelo Dladla (27) suspected that his digestive system had been damaged by whoonga as he seldom went to relieve himself. The father of two told The Witness that most of the money he made went towards buying drugs as he could not function without getting his fix.

“I need about R150 to buy enough straws to get me through the day. It’s a daily hustle. I beg and recycle whatever I can sell to get me to at least R100. On the days that I don’t have enough money, I don’t buy any food and use whatever I have to buy drugs.”

Dladla previously worked in Howick as a potter but quit his job, sold his clothes and came to live on the streets.

He said he missed his children and his family but could not go face them looking like a “para” (colloquial name for whoonga addicts).

His sentiment was shared by Siyabonga Mazibuko (18) from Dambuza.

Mazibuko left home last year when his mother told him to leave after he started stealing things around the house to buy drugs. He was doing Grade 10 at the time. “I want to go back to school and finish my education so that I can make my mother proud of me again.”

The trio said they each needed at least four straws of whoonga to get through the day.

“When you don’t smoke you get painful stomach cramps and your body feels feverish. You can’t even eat anything because you feel so sick. It’s like you are going to die,” explained Mbanjwa.

They said some of the people they knew died when they tried to quit cold turkey.

Njilo invited the group to spend this coming weekend with him in his home. He said he would also buy them methadone, which apparently now costs around R800 per dose.

“I want them to be able to feel the warmth of being at home. The doors will be open to them to leave anytime if they no longer want to continue the journey of having a drug-free life.”

The mayor said the long-term goal was to see the youngsters reclaim their lives and reconnect with their families. He said after they get clean, the plan was assist them pursue their goals so that they feel like productive members of society again.

Government plans intervention for city's homeless

The team from DSD compiled profiles of the street people that they said would assist with putting together tailor-made intervention programmes for each individual.

The information collected included the level of education, skills and finding out whether there was a home they could go back too once rehabilitated.

“Your destiny is not being an addict and living on the streets. You’ve taken the first step by making a decision to come here today and we are willing to walk with you the rest of the way if you really want to be clean,” said deputy manager at DSD, Sibusisiwe Ndawula.

DoH’s district assistant director for mental health Precious Buthelezi said the challenge with addiction was that one needed to address the root causes because drugs were often used to soothe the pain that one is feeling.

“You need to have honest conversations with the social workers about what brought you here. It’s possible that some of you turned to drugs because you felt alone with your pain because there was no one to talk to at home or you tried to speak up but no one listened,” she said.

Buthelezi said drug addicts should not wait until they overdose to seek medical help.

She said even those living on the streets could walk into any clinic anytime and ask to be referred to relevant units for detoxification and counselling.

Councillor Ngubo said the meeting was not a once-off event but a start of a long process that required commitment from all the stakeholders, especially the addicts.

He said he understood that street people were afraid of the process that they were about to begin, but begged them to persevere.

“Change can be daunting too, but it will be worth it in the end.”

Ngubo said he hoped other organisations would follow on the Co-Care Foundation’s footsteps and lend a hand in helping street people.

One of the foundation’s projects is providing meals to the people living on the city’s streets.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  whoonga addicts
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