Drugged teens swarm city

2019-09-25 14:08
Empty cough mixture bottles that were found thrown inside one of the concrete bins at the Freedom Square Park in the CBD.

Empty cough mixture bottles that were found thrown inside one of the concrete bins at the Freedom Square Park in the CBD. (Nokuthula Khanyile)

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Neither a promise to make Freedom Square Park a drug-free zone, nor a raid by police and municipal workers have deterred truant schoolchildren and drug dealers from the area.

Almost eight months after the supposed municipal crackdown, schoolchildren are back in full force using drugs and sipping codeine cough syrup to get high during school hours.

Not a single law enforcement official is in sight.

This, as the use of other drugs such as heroin, ecstasy, crack, crack cocaine and Mandrax continues to grow in popularity in Pietermaritzburg.

The Witness has previously reported that the infamous Ematsheni Beer Hall has become an open-air market for whoonga.

The Freedom Square Park is strewn with litter and piles of glass bottles. The concrete bins inside the park are filled to the brim with hundreds of empty cough mixture and cooldrink bottles.

The cough mixture bottles included Expectalin and Benylin containing codeine.

Fenced off from the New Taxi Rank on Langalibalele Street, the park has been taken over by pupils seeking a fix.

The pupils, some in school uniform, fill the park to enjoy a drug combo dubbed “lean” on the streets. It is made up of cough syrup and sugary drinks.

“They come as early as 8 am when they should be in school. There are empty cough syrup bottles all over the park.

“They put this concoction in their juice bottle and carry it to school and you can’t tell the difference because it’s mixed with Coke,” said a car guard at the park. “The children are just zoned out. It’s like they cannot do, feel or see anything.”

A court employee, who uses the parking lot inside the square, said they had made numerous complaints to the municipality about the conduct of the schoolchildren, but nothing had been done. “These children were back the following day after the raid … it’s a shame that authorities have turned a blind eye. It’s not only the schoolchildren, there is also an element of criminality and people are being robbed of their belongings.”

When The Witness visited the park last week, schoolchildren and vagrants were milling around in groups under the trees during school hours.

One boy, wearing a navy school jersey, was seen mixing a bottle of cough mixture with what appears to have been cooldrink before sharing it with a group of friends.

Another man, who appeared to have been a drug dealer, was seen carrying a small plastic packet with cigarettes and rolling paper inside.

The Witness previously reported that former Msunduzi mayor Themba Njilo said the park would be shut down.

During the raid, Njilo said the park would have municipal security guards stationed at the main entrance but that has not happened.

Thobeka Mafumbatha, Msunduzi spokesperson, said: “As part of the municipality’s turnaround strategy, which is engaging with other stakeholders such as SAPS, social development and NPOs, the area will be attended to and looked at as part of the long-term sustainability of keeping it clean.”

Mafumbatha could not say what happened to the initial plan of having municipal security guards stationed at the park.

Sergeant Mthokozisi Ngobese, Pietermaritzburg police spokesperson said: “Schoolchildren are a responsibility of parents, the community, schools, and the Social Development Department. The municipality is the custodian of the CBD in terms of the by-laws. The police are also doing crime prevention and visibility in town.”

Walter Petersen of African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca), said drug rehabilitation centres are being inundated with children hooked on codeine.

“Drinking large amounts of cough mixture to get a high is a trend that has been around for a long time, but there is suddenly a worrying upsurge. It is a widespread problem across all ages, but youngsters are experimenting mostly,” Petersen said.

Explaining why users mix cough mixture with cool drinks, mostly commonly Coca Cola and Sprite, Petersen said the fizzy drinks act as a catalyst in the absorption of codeine into the blood, allowing the user to get high quicker.

Sifiso Mavundla, Plessislaer police precinct CFP chairperson said: “Council needs to take harsh action to put an end to this problem. Cough mixture addiction is one of the biggest problems faced by Pietermaritzburg schools. We attended a soccer tournament last week and the schoolchildren were seen gulping this drink,” Mavundla said.

“There are even people selling ready-made cooldrinks with cough mixture outside schools in Edendale and Imbali during lunch breaks.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  drug use

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