Whoonga, the highly addictive drug that has Durban’s townships in its deadly grip, is not a single substance but rather a highly addictive cocktail of substances ranging from ARVs and rat poison to cocaine and heroin.
A City Press investigation has discovered that in the city’s western townships, including Clermont, KwaNdengezi and KwaDabeka, the drug, known in Chatsworth as “sugars”, is a cocktail of low-grade heroin, cocaine and rat poison.
In southern and northern townships like Umlazi and KwaMashu it contains cocaine, ARVs and other additives.
Addicts say the name whoonga comes from the Zulu term “wukeka”, referring to the stomach cramps that assail anyone withdrawing from the drug.
Ntobeko Khumalo (22) from KwaNdengezi, near Pinetown, who has been hooked on whoonga since 2007, said the drug sold in the area was mainly a mix of heroin imported from Tanzania and crack cocaine.
“We don’t do cheap whoonga here. The whoonga we smoke here is far different from what they sell in Umlazi,” he said.
However, the effects of the two kinds of whoonga are almost identical. They cost between R20 and R30 a hit.
Khumalo said in Umlazi the whoonga was sold in cut straws sealed at the ends, while in Kwa-Ndengezi it was sold in wrappings cut from plastic bags.
The crushed ARVs, he said, were added to bulk up the drug because of the high cost of heroin and cocaine.
He claimed that the ARVs were either stolen or bought from HIV patients or corrupt health workers and that “Nigerians are selling this kind of whoonga just to add more powder to their stuff, but the effects are the same”.
Ntutuko Cebekhulu, who has been smoking whoonga since 2004, said it was a very dangerous drug because once you were hooked on it, it was not easy to quit.
He said the drug was first sold in Chatsworth and then spread to the western townships.
Walter Peterson of the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence said whoonga was highly addictive and dangerous because it reduced both heart and lung functions.
Although Peterson couldn’t give exact statistics on the number of whoonga addicts his organisation had treated, he said there had been a “massive” increase since last year.
Both Cebekulu and Khumalo said whoonga addiction caused severe aggression during withdrawal, which comes about three to four hours after use.
Withdrawal symptoms involve both craving and pain, which are temporarily relieved by fresh doses of the drug.
“The cramps won’t stop until you get it. You’ll do whatever it takes to get the money to buy more, even if it means committing a crime,” Khumalo said.
Cebekulu and Khumalo took the City Press team into a dark room to demonstrate how they take the drug. They both looked excited as they prepared their fix.
The drug was placed on a tile that had been heated on a hotplate and was then chopped with a razor blade by Cebekulu until it was fine, while Khumalo removed seeds and stems from the dagga they use as the base from which to smoke it.
Khumalo placed the dagga he had mixed with tobacco onto cigarette paper and sprinkled the whoonga on top.
He rolled the mixture into a cigarette, using a cigarette filter as a stopper at one end. The two then shared the high-powered joint.
When Khumalo was high he told City Press that one of his friends, Innocent, had died in 2009 from whoonga use.
“We started doing drugs with Innocent and we were strongly addicted, but two years later he went mad and he died,” he said.
Khumalo and Cebekhulu said they robbed people because they could not afford the R30 for a fresh hit every three hours.
“We don’t kill people – we only scare them, take their wallets and jewellery and sell them,” said Cebekhulu.
“We splash it all out on whoonga,” he said.