PMB’s drug problem

2018-07-16 10:03

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Heroin is the drug of choice in Pietermaritzburg, while ecstasy, crack, crack cocaine and Mandrax continue growing in popularity, a police source said, which explains the growing distribution of low-grade heroin, which is known as whoonga to hundreds of addicts who congregate on the periphery of the city centre.

Whoonga is a heroin-based drug mixed with a variety of other substances, including medicine and sometimes rat poison.

Selling in a straw for between R18 and R30, heroin is used by a diverse drug clientele who generally purchase nothing fewer than 30 straws a day, police say.

Ecstasy sells for R40 a tablet, crack cocaine and Mandrax at R50 a tablet, and cocaine powder goes for anything between R250 and R300 a gram.

A senior police official who has been investigating drug-related cases in Pietermaritzburg for 12 years, told Weekend Witness that the drug situation on the streets of Pietermaritzburg and surrounding areas is getting worse.

“It’s not a poor men’s struggle or a rich man’s struggle. It cuts across the board from the poor to the rich,” said the officer. “Heroin was not very huge in Pietermaritzburg but it is starting to become a big problem. Every month we investigate heroin-related cases.”

Police have recently clamped down on alleged drug dealers in the capital city.

On Tuesday, two men appeared in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court after they were arrested on the N3 near the New England Road off-ramp earlier this month after they were allegedly found transporting 5 000 heroin capsules. The drugs were estimated to have a street value of around R100 000.

The two men, Shaun Pillay (27) and George Mzwandile Sithole (38), were each released on R5 000 bail. The case was postponed to October 17 for further investigation.

The two are charged with dealing in heroin.

In December 2017, Bongumusa Mbhele (18) was arrested after he was allegedly found in possession of about 16 000 straws of heroin in Queen Street in the city centre.

In another big bust, last September, police arrested one of KwaZulu-Natal’s most wanted alleged drug kingpins.

Moses Mncwabe was charged with dealing in R174 000 worth of cocaine. He was also charged with two counts of corruption for allegedly offering to pay the officers who arrested him — Sergeant Leroy Boucher and Warrant Officer Jay Marian — R1 million each to let him go.

While ecstasy is still big with the youngsters, it is no longer the latest rage.

“I think ecstasy has become so common that we hardly receive information on it,” the officer said.

The most common ecstasy in Pietermaritzburg is the white, pink, blue and cream ones.

“Heroin is now seen as the drug. It has become cheaper and some West African nationals readily supply syndicates who fetch the supplies from Durban, or the drugs are delivered to them by runners, or the users are supplied by certain Nigerian individuals within the city,” the officer said.

Although Pietermaritzburg’s drug problem is not restricted to specific areas, the CBD, Mountain Rise, Plessislaer and Howick are notorious for incidences involving drugs.

“Because the dealers and users know we target clubs, they meet runners on street corners or in the township, purchase the drugs, consume them and then turn up at night spots already drugged,” the police source added.

The source said drug dealers are arrested on a regular basis and sentenced to prison terms, but police have found that as soon as they are released, they go back to dealing.

“It’s because selling drugs is so lucrative. There is a huge demand,” said the source.

Another police source said it is not easy to catch the dealers.

“If there’s a whole lot of drugs and the person is standing next to them, we can’t just arrest him.

“We must either catch the person in possession of the drugs or I must send an undercover police agent to purchase the drugs. You have to follow the law, you can’t presume. You have to prove that the person is the owner of the drugs.”

Hawks Warrant Officer Mzo Nxumalo said what makes heroin popular is that it is the cheapest drug.

“It is one of the most dangerous in the world. If the demand is high, the possibility is that there is a factory manufacturing it inside the country.”

Nxumalo agreed that Pietermaritzburg has a drug problem.

“Without pointing fingers, the national disbandment of the South African Narcotics Bureau [Sanab] in 2004 had a huge impact,” said Nxumalo.

He said that although the unit has been reinstated, the damage had already been done.

“Sanab worked on the ground. When it was disbanded, that is when all the new drug dealers and sellers started mushrooming.”

Nxumalo said that while it might appear as if the drug problem is a no-win situation, a lot of progress has been made.

“However, I have been in this line of work for 26 years and it is getting worse.

“You arrest a prominent drug dealer and tomorrow another one pops up. Drug dealers are getting bolder because it is such a lucrative business and an easy way of making money.

“They are constantly trying to outsmart us. It’s like a cat-and-mouse chase,” he said.

Nxumalo was making reference to the fact that drug dealers are using capsules to hide the heroin in.

Grim picture of drug use

The South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (Sacendu), which monitors trends in alcohol and other drug use, said that it has seen an increase in the number of people admitted for treatment, from 8 787 in 2016 to 10 047 in 2017, across the nine provinces.

Sacendu’s updated report paints a grim picture of the level of drug use among South African youth.

According to its latest key studies, which were conducted between January 2017 and January 2018, alcohol remains the dominant substance of abuse in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the central region.

During this period, there was a significant increase in alcohol-related admissions for people younger than 20 years in KZN, from eight percent to 24%.

Almost 24% of people under the age of 20 reported alcohol as their primary drug of use.

The report said that almost 11% of people in KZN who are in treatment have cocaine as a primary or secondary drug use.

Almost 85% of heroin users in the province younger than 20 years are black African.

The report said that the use of whoonga continues to pose a problem, with 10% of people admitted in KZN for whoonga.

The misuse of more than one substance in KZN remains high, with almost 54% of people indicating the use of more than one drug.

Sacendu said it is also monitoring reports about the drug Flakka in KZN.

Whoonga addicts’ ‘hell’

Sakhile Dlungwane is one of hundreds of the Pietermaritzburg’s growing number of whoonga addicts who populate the lower CBD and some taxi ranks.

The 26-year-old from Edendale said he started smoking whoonga in 2007.

“Some years ago, when whoonga first came, I bought into the hype and tried it,” he said.

He thought he had it under control as, unlike his friends, he didn’t go through “arosta”.

This is the term used by addicts to describe excruciating stomach cramps soothed only with another hit.

“When I got arosta for the first time, I thought I was going to die. I could not function and it felt like I was losing my mind. It gave me the courage to steal to buy whoonga just to feel normal again,” Dlungwane admitted.

He said he was forced to run away from home after stealing R11 000 from a funeral parlour in Edendale.

He was soon living on the streets. There, his days are filled by two activities — smoking and hustling for money to smoke. “We do everything right there at the taxi rank.

“It’s not easy in the township, because if you steal they kill you. Here it’s better… you are able to make quick money to buy your next fix,” he told Weekend Witness.

Dlungwane said he smokes 30 whoonga straws a day.

“I tried to quit but it’s not easy. I went to a rehab in 2011 and relapsed.”

“If I don’t smoke, I become aggressive — I can do anything as long as I can smoke.”

Dlungwane said whoonga is easily accessible from dealers around the CBD.

Another addict, Siyabonga Zuma, said he had used whoonga for nine years.

“It seemed alright at the beginning but now it’s hell,” he said.

“It all started with dagga. I wanted to fit in. It was easier in the beginning. However, once you are hooked, there is no turning back.”

“I have done criminal activities just to get another fix. Prison quickly became my second home,” he said.

Zuma agreed that trying to quit was hell.

“The problem is at night when you can’t sleep, you are vomiting and have unbearable stomach pains,” said the homeless addict.

He said he believes that being clueless about the dangers of drugs is what led him to smoking them.

A former addict, Phumlani Mbhele, who started by selling drugs, said his biggest mistake was to use what he was selling.

“Once you taste that thing, you are hooked. People should not even try it because it very hard to quit.

“It has been said that once you become an addict there is no way you can quit. That is a lie, you can still be rehabilitated.

“Yes, it is hard and it a long process but you have to tell yourself that it’s what you want to do,” said Mbhele.

KZN in need of more youth-focused drug rehabilitation centres

Pietermaritzburg South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) treatment services manager Sane Dube said young black dagga users were filling up KwaZulu-Natal rehab centres.

“Dagga is still leading as a primary drug that is used, especially by school going children,” said Dube.

“They believe that it is better and it is safe. Other users say that smoking dagga helps them to be more creative, focused and calm.”

Dube said, although hearsay indicates that whoonga is the drug of choice, their statistics proved otherwise, stating that, in the last three years, they had seen a decline in the number of whoonga users coming into their centre to seek treatment.

“We know that whoonga is being used but the problem is that addicts don’t come forward for assistance.”

Dube said the drug problem was getting worse, especially with young males between the ages of 14 to 17.

“The problem is that we don’t have facilities around the Midlands that cater for young people. The only rehab that caters for adolescents is in Madadeni and it’s very far.”

She added that although Durban has the Newlands Park Care Centre it had a long waiting list.

“It’s difficult for most addicts to quit on their own. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on how often one has been using the drug and also the amount of the substance.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  drug abuse

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