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The ugly side of Zimbabwe’s drug abuse menace

Zimbabwe is grappling with a serious drug and substance abuse problem

Whenever Chipo Kufakamwe (27), a resident in Harare’s Waterfalls suburb sets out for the central business district, she no longer wears jewellery.

Two months ago, she was attacked in broad daylight by a group of random young men who took away her gold neck chain in the highly populated city centre.

The gang fits the description of street urchins and they were visibly under the influence of some substance, she says.

 “I have heard that street dwellers are always high on drugs like mutoriro and crystal meth and snatch things from people to fund their drinking and smoking habits,” Kufakamwe told   Standard People.

She was attacked while walking down Leopold Takawira Street in downtown Harare sometime in September.

“I am now afraid of getting into town wearing jewellery following this frightful experience,” Kufakamwe said.

More than 20 females, interviewed by this publication during a survey on the impact of drug usage in the country’s urban centres, particularly in the crowded streets of Harare, said they were frightened by the high number of drug-abusing youths walking the streets of Harare.

 Apart from losing valuables including phones, hats or wigs, women have been groped, jeered and even physically attacked.

 Zimbabwe is grappling with a serious drug and substance abuse problem, which now poses a big threat to the country’s development agenda.

 Local researchers have attributed the increasing drug and substance abuse among young people, who make up about 61% of the country’s population of over 15 million, to waning parenting practices, unemployment, poverty and idleness, broken homes, social influence and stress among other issues.

While it is not really clear what mainly pushes young people towards their first “high”, the harsh implications of the scourge are manifesting massively.

Through a lengthy period of research, this publication established that a disturbingly high number of parents or guardians are approaching the courts and successfully seeking protection orders against their children over wayward behaviour caused largely by drug abuse.

The troublesome young people are invariably kicked out of their homes by exasperated parents and guardians and, with nowhere to go, they find themselves living on the streets.  

In most cases, the homelessness and total absence of parental control spells the death knell to their chances of a descent future.

 It closes all doors to normal life and opens one to the full life of a vagrant. Soon they become carefree petty thieves that eventually develop into hardened criminals.

According to a study carried out by Unicef earlier this year, young people in the country are the most vulnerable of society, especially those from poor or unstable backgrounds who may be tempted to see drugs as an escape from life’s troubles.

This has led to a rise in both petty and serious crimes carried out by youths who commit offences to finance their drug addiction.

Two months ago, a college student, caught by passers-by after snatching a phone from an elderly woman in Harare's CBD, told the police that he “needed the money to buy drugs”.

Robberies, street fights and even murder over flimsy reasons have become common in public places across the country with a significant number of cases involving people and especially youth under a drunken stupor.

 While those who do not engage in drugs worry about their safety and health, drug and alcohol addicts including youths living on the streets have no safety nets and usually plunge into any plagues that may beset the country, although many of them somehow survive even without any medical interventions.

Data from the National Aids Council (NAC) suggests that the country’s HIV prevalence rate is 15% but it is feared this may be higher where drug addicts are concerned.

In Mufakose, a high density suburb in the capital, 32-year-old Michael Tawonezvi is recovering from drug addiction. We visited him during the course of this research and he poured his heart out.

“I am a recovering addict who was hooked on drugs for 12 years,” says Tawonezvi, who also revealed that he often engaged in unsafe sex with multiple partners at a local drug house where, besides drugs, sex was also offered for a fee.

“Addicts are most likely to get carried away while taking drugs at these bases and that is when all kinds of reckless sexual practices take place.”

 At times, Tawonezvi recalled, he and his friends would go out looking for sex workers after smoking marijuana.

“There is a false belief that sexual encounters are more enjoyable when one is high, so we would go to look for prostitutes after smoking,” he said.

According to the Anti-drug Addiction Association of Zimbabwe, drug users typically share syringes, greatly increasing the risk of infecting each other with various ailments like HIV.

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report released in 2019, Zimbabwe has the highest number of 15 to 19-year-olds engaging in heavy “episodic drinking” in Africa, with 70.7% of males and 55.5% of females participating.

The same age group is also at the fore of drug and narcotics abuse.

In January this year, eight teenage girls were expelled from Dominican Convent High School after the institution’s authorities found illicit drugs in their bags during a school trip.

 Earlier this year, the Zimbabwe Republic Police launched a national operation, “No to illicit drugs and substances”, which saw hundreds of users and suppliers arrested.

“The issue of drug abuse and illicit drug activities is now becoming a serious cause for concern,” police spokesperson senior assistant commissioner Paul Nyathi told local media at the time.

“It’s now a national disaster. We want each and every person, and communities, to play a part so that we get rid of this menace which is seriously undermining the safety of communities.”

 However, questions have arisen on how effective and sustainable measures like clampdowns are.

Medical professionals believe rehabilitation could plug the gap better.

“We are in trouble as a country, youths are resorting to drug and substance abuse and this is largely due to high levels of unemployment," says Johannes Marisa, president of the Medical and Dental Private Practitioners’ Association of Zimbabwe.

“Rehabilitation centres for drug addicts are quite few in our country, and the private sector can play a significant role in establishing such centres.

“It is difficult for an addict to abruptly stop drugs, hence the need for rehabilitation at secluded places.”


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