Young peo­ple’s use of drugs such as nyaope has reached alarm­ing lev­els, and il­le­gal sub­stance abuse is af­fect­ing chil­dren as young as four, writes Them­balethu Mtshali

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They are some­times mis­taken for en­trepreneurs who are tire­lessly col­lect­ing and trad­ing scrap metal and other re­cy­clables to earn a liv­ing. But cousins Sabelo (22) and Sur­prise Buthelezi (24), from Katle­hong in Ekurhu­leni, ad­mit to City Press that they are both ad­dicted to nyaope, which forces them to wake up at dawn to hunt for re­cy­clable ma­te­rial to feed their habit.

The cousins say they earn enough money – a min­i­mum of R40 per day – to get high ev­ery day.

Sabelo, whose older brother died af­ter a nyaope over­dose while in prison, says he be­gan smok­ing nyaope in 2010 dur­ing the soc­cer World Cup at the age of 15.

“I thought I would quit soon af­ter the tour­na­ment ended. But I couldn’t stop be­cause my in­testines would tighten up when­ever I tried. So I grad­u­ally stopped smok­ing it and started to in­ject the drug in my arm,” says Sabelo, who gets sy­ringes from the lo­cal clinic’s waste bins.

He ad­mits, how­ever, that he re­grets his choice and curses the day he started ex­per­i­ment­ing with drugs.

“I have been alien­ated from the com­mu­nity and al­most every­one around me. I quit school to fo­cus on feed­ing my ad­dic­tion and things got worse when I lost my brother. Of­ten, I spend about R120 on drugs each day and only around R20 on food. I trade my re­cy­clable cans for cash and some­times I tres­pass and steal items from peo­ple’s yards ... it’s not nice,” he laments.

Asked if he would agree to go to a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre if given the chance, he says he will stop vol­un­tar­ily when the time is right with­out the help of an in­sti­tu­tion be­cause he started the habit on his own.

Sur­prise says he used to smoke Man­drax and only started us­ing nyaope af­ter sell­ing it to users on be­half of a druglord who en­cour­aged him to smoke it, es­pe­cially when pack­ag­ing the prod­uct at night.

“I now in­ject my­self with nyaope ... I once missed a vein which re­sulted in the ex­ces­sive swelling of my arm. I also want to quit. I want to get help, but don’t know how or where to start,” he says.

Young peo­ple’s use of drug com­bi­na­tions such as nyaope has reached alarm­ing pro­por­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­tral Drug Au­thor­ity.

The body says il­le­gal sub­stance abuse is af­fect­ing chil­dren as young four years old, with the SA Na­tional Coun­cil on Al­co­holism and Drug De­pen­dence’s af­fil­i­ated or­gan­i­sa­tions ad­mit­ting to pro­vid­ing treat­ment to ad­dicts aged four to 13 (3%), 14 to 17 (23%), 18 to 21 (16%) and 22 to 35 (41%).

South Africa’s drug prob­lem is twice the world norm. An es­ti­mated 15% of South Africans are ad­dicted to drugs, with mar­i­juana, al­co­hol, nyaope and hero­ine be­ing among the most favoured drugs.

Ac­cord­ing to crime statis­tics recorded be­tween April and De­cem­ber by the SA Po­lice Ser­vice, drug-re­lated crimes had in­creased by 11%, while in­ci­dents of driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of al­co­hol or drugs in­creased by 2.3%. A to­tal of 215 941 drug-re­lated crimes were recorded, up from 194 535 the pre­vi­ous pe­riod.

No­musa Radebe (51) from Katle­hong says the pain of hav­ing an ad­dicted child is in­ex­pli­ca­bly dev­as­tat­ing. Her sonin-law is ad­dicted to nyaope.

“My heart drops to the floor ev­ery time I look at him. Tebogo was a hand­some boy who at­tended school and played soc­cer. Now he moves around rub­bish bins search­ing for re­cy­clables to get his fix. He hides when he sees me be­cause he is ashamed of what he has be­come.

“My grand­son Sihle loves his fa­ther no mat­ter what. He still runs to Tebogo, not mind­ing the strong stench his fa­ther car­ries,” she says.

Radebe says they have taken him to re­hab, but then he dis­ap­peared for sev­eral days be­fore he was seen roam­ing the streets again.

For 21-year-old Agnes Sibeko, who is also from Katle­hong, it is bet­ter to smoke dagga be­cause the “worst thing it will do to you is to make you lazy at times”.

Gaut­eng po­lice spokesper­son Lieu­tenant Colonel Lun­gelo Dlamini says that, de­spite the con­cern­ing statis­tics, po­lice con­tinue to com­bat a va­ri­ety of il­licit drugs, es­pe­cially nyaope, which is iden­ti­fied as one of the root causes of dru­gre­lated crimes.

“Gaut­eng has all kinds of drugs, and nyaope is now the big­gest prob­lem be­cause it is cheap, widely avail­able and ex­tremely ad­dic­tive.

“The po­lice de­pend on in­for­ma­tion from the com­mu­nity to deal with druglo­rds. Com­mu­nity mem­bers must stand up and as­sist po­lice with in­for­ma­tion about drug traf­fick­ing,” he says.

While some drugs are pro­duced in South Africa, the 2014 UN World Drug Re­port warned that the coun­try was also a ma­jor tran­ship­ment hub for im­port­ing and ex­port­ing drugs.

Na­tional po­lice spokesper­son Bri­gadier Vishnu Naidoo be­lieves South Africa is greatly af­fected by the glob­alised il­licit drug trade.

“In re­cent years, south­ern and east Africa form part of the ‘south­ern route’ for heroin that is traf­ficked from Afghanistan via the In­dian Ocean to our re­gion,” he says, adding that, in­ter­na­tion­ally, au­thor­i­ties have height­en­ing vig­i­lance re­gard­ing drug traf­fick­ing in and through South Africa.

“Through in­te­grated in­tel­li­gence-led op­er­a­tions, the SA Nar­cotics En­force­ment Bu­reau and the po­lice are de­tect­ing the drug-traf­fick­ing net­works. With heroin be­ing a ma­jor in­gre­di­ent in nyaope, we are more vig­i­lant on hero­in­traf­fick­ing de­vel­op­ments af­fect­ing South Africa,” he says.

Naidoo says the po­lice nor­mally make their big­gest busts at ports of en­try and il­licit lab­o­ra­to­ries.


FIX ME Nyaope ad­dicts have re­sorted to shar­ing their own blood when try­ing to get a fix around Gaut­eng and North West

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