“The syndicates are so powerful they involve some top government officials, including a minister in government (named).”
REPORT BY TAPIWA ZIVIRA
At 40, dreadlocked Themba believes he has seen it all in the dark, dangerous world of drug trafficking and dealing in Harare.
Holding a joint of marijuana, he narrates how two decades ago he was initiated into the world of drugs, starting off as a casual smoker of marijuana in Mbare.
Forced into unemployment by Zimbabwe’s spiralling economic problems, Themba found himself being the frontman of some of the most feared drug syndicates in the country selling marijuana, cocaine and Broncleer cough syrup, among other drugs.
“The drug that I have dealt with mostly is mbanje [marijuana] because of its easy accessibility,” he said.
According to Themba, the syndicates — which involve truckers, politicians, the police and gangs — smuggle marijuana from Mozambique and Malawi.
Our investigations could not independently verify the involvement of law enforcement agents and politicians, but several names of top police officers and politicians were mentioned in three independent interviews with some people that are involved in drug dealing.
In one of the instances, the sources identified a man who was driving a black Nissan X-Trail into one of the shebeens in Mbare as a police officer who was actively involved in the trade of marijuana.
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said they always investigated any cases of police corruption and misconduct brought before them.
She asked this paper to furnish her with names of implicated police officials.
Themba said drug syndicates usually used Chidodo border post in Muzarabani, and to some extent Nyamapanda to bring dangerous drugs that are tearing apart Harare’s social fabric.
“Truck drivers connive with syndicate leaders to load their trucks with a layer of mbanje before loading their normal shipment, which will conceal the drug,” he said.
“But of late, they have been using refrigerated trucks, which at the border are not subject to the same physical search like other trucks because it is assumed they will be carrying perishable goods.
“The syndicates are so powerful they involve some top government officials, including a minister in government (named).”
Themba said one of the most powerful and influential syndicate bosses who allegedly works with some government officials is called by the nickname Canaan.
“Canaan brings in drugs, and distributes them throughout the city using his network of runners,” said Themba.
Once the drugs are in Harare, the network is so tight that they end up in some of the poorest suburbs of the country where they are sold.
Further investigations took the news crew to various spots in Mbare, Highfield and Mufakose — just a few of the many places where some of the drugs are sold.
A runner from Mufakose narrated how carefully organised trafficking rings had been established at the Beitbridge border post, which is used to smuggle Broncleer.
Drivers of buses that service the Harare/Johannesburg route are complicit in the rampant smuggling, it emerged.
“The chicken buses [colloquial for ramshackle buses] that go to South Africa are the best for smuggling because the drivers have been plying that route for decades and are well-known by immigration officers,” said a runner from the populous suburb of Mufakose.
“In South Africa”, the runner whispered as if in fear of the walls surrounding her, “the drug is easy to access and buy”.
“When you have been in this game for a while you will know all the loopholes.
“I have managed to raise the kids and feed my ailing mother this way. Give me a job and I will gladly stop poisoning the nation as you describe it.
In these spots, which include dancehall studios, food joints, and shebeens, dozens of young men and boys hang around, openly taking some of the drugs which come in various forms and shapes.
While the most common form of drugs is marijuana and Broncleer, there is a cocktail of other unconventional drugs that are either made out of chemicals, or medication.
One of the now widely abused drugs are the pills meant for the sedation of mentally ill patients.
The drug, known in the ghetto as “dombo” [stone] is, according to a nurse at a Harare hospital, officially known as Chlorpromazine.
Chlorpromazine tablets are an antipsychotic, which means they are drugs used to manage delusions, hallucinations, or disordered thought, which in simple terms, is mental illness, the website drugs.com says.
The nurse, who refused to be named, said the drug can easily be found, even in pharmacies.
“It needs a prescription, but people can either forge one, or bribe the pharmacist to get the drug. It is easy to get”
A survey revealed the drug costs between $6 and $8 for 30 tablets in pharmacies around the city.
On further enquiries, it emerged that several pharmacies could sell the tablets even without a prescription.
A apart from looking drunk, some young men that had taken the drug on the streets of Harare showed signs of drowsiness and their bodies showed signs of stiffness and troubled mobility,
According to drugs.com, symptoms of this drug include “excitability, and immobile or unresponsive stupor.”
In the long term, drugs.com states the side effects of the drug in general, include drowsiness, dizziness, skin reactions or rash, dry mouth, orthostatic hypotension (dizzy spells), amenorrhea (abnormal absence of menstruation) , galactorrhea (milky nipple discharge unrelated to the normal milk production of breast-feeding), and weight gain.
LISTEN TO A FORMER DRUG DEALER SPEAK ABOUT TRAFFICKING SYNDICATES
Another drug that is being abused is diluted ethanol or methanol, commonly known in the streets as musombodhiya.
Ethanol is reportedly smuggled from ethanol plants and transported in relatively small quantities of up to several drums to Harare and other towns where it is then diluted with water.
Research shows that ethanol fuel, also known as ethyl alcohol, is the same type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, but has very high concentrations of alcohol that can reach up to 95% of the content.
A doctor who runs a surgery at Machipisa Shopping Centre said, “Yes, you can survive drinking ethanol, but you will have serious dehydration, stomach problems, that is if you wake up!”
Methanol, which is related to ethanol, and is commonly a component in embalming fluids used to preserve cadavers, is one of the forms of alcohol that youths are widely ingesting.
According to a chemical engineer who is a student at the University of Zimbabwe, “methanol is poisonous to the central nervous system and may cause blindness, coma, and death, if taken in large amounts.
“It is one of the simplest forms of alcohol and has an odour that is similar to ethanol, but slightly sweeter.”
Harare family torn apart by drug abuse
Far from the spots where drugs are taken in Harare and aside from the many personal side effects of substance abuse, families of those taking drugs have suffered immensely.
Nineteen-year-old Tendai Chaka’s father recently banished his son from their family home in Highfield’s Lusaka section.
“He is an addict and he takes anything alcoholic that comes his way and when his craving takes over, he resorts to stealing things from the house and sells them cheaply.
“I do not want to see him in my house,” declared the father as the mother sat weeping.’
“Mwana uyu atishupa [this child has given us so much trouble], my heart bleeds, and I ask where we went wrong as parents,” said the mother, who said she now goes to Walter Magaya’s PHD Ministries for prayers.
After being banished from home, Tendai went to live at a local car park where he teamed up with friends who are also drug addicts.
The Standard followed him up and found him fast asleep, slumped in the cab of an abandoned truck at the car park and had to wait for a couple of hours for him to wake up.
Looking groggy, with eyes drooping in apparent show of drunkenness, he got out of the truck.
He was scruffy, with clothes that showed they were last cleaned a long time ago and hair that has grown long and is unkempt.
He could hardly utter a full sentence without pausing for a couple of seconds.
One of his friends said “akasticker uyu”, referring to the street lingo used on people who would have imbibed heavily sedative alcohol or drugs.
A clear sign of addiction, throughout the interview, Tendai asked this writer if he had brought some “stuff” for him.
“Piritsi ndoriri kuita manje [The pill is now the most effective drug]” he said.
Asked what his plans for the future were, Tendai said; “Ndongoita zviripo [I do what is there].”
A social worker who declined to be named said cases like these required government intervention in the form of counselling and eventually working towards rehabilitation and reintegration of the drug addict with his family.
“But government currently has no capacity to do that as its budget is strained,” said the social worker.
The Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) said according to regulations, “no person shall supply a prescription preparation (drug) other than in accordance with a written prescription”.
MCAZ director-general Gugu Mahlangu said legislation required that when a pharmacist dispenses a prescription, they should keep a record of the prescription on that day, or the next business day.
They are expected to keep such records for a minimum of five years.
“These can be checked during an inspection of premises where dispensing is taking place. Under normal circumstances, this would not be difficult for the police.”
But Mahlangu said checks and controls do not work when pharmacists are faced with prescriptions written on clinic or hospital cards.
“The pharmacists are not able to insist on retaining those cards as they are the property of the patient and form part of the health records required for review,” he said.
Mahlangu urged members of the public to be vigilant and report cases of abuse of privilege by pharmacists.
“We recommend that if anyone has knowledge of any pharmacists or pharmacies where prescription preparations are being dispensed without prescriptions, they inform the MCAZ who will investigate and take measures against the errant individuals and pharmacies,”she said.
“It is of concern to the MCAZ that the source of prescription preparations that are then abused could be licensed pharmacies.”
Why Zim has a drug abuse problem
Zimbabwe’s high levels of unemployment, exacerbated by a crippling economic crisis, are pushing more youths into drug abuse, a mental health expert has said.
University of Zimbabwe lecturer and mental health practitioner, Clement Nhunzvi, who, in 2014, carried out a study titled Occupational perspective on the journey of recovery from substance abuse among young adult Zimbabwean men, pointed to “unemployment, and economic frustration” experienced by youths as the chief driver of drug-related mental cases.
Nhunzvi said the situation was made worse by the country’s inadequate rehabilitation structures, where drug abusers go through therapy in the country’s health institutions, but are released back into the environment that encourages a relapse.
“They go back into the same environment where there is poverty, unemployment and frustration, which leads them back into drug abuse,” reads part of Nhunzvi’s research.
“Hospital statistics showed that as many as 60% of all re-admissions during the period from January 2010 to December 2011 were secondary (not new) to substance-induced disorders, and that less than 3% of these service users moved into long-term recovery with follow-up.
“This situation was aggravated by the fact that the psychiatric rehabilitation team was faced with an unsupportive environment both in clinical practice and in the community where our clients were expected to recover.”
Nhunzvi said ideally, Zimbabwe should have a drug rehabilitation centre that works specifically towards dealing with drug addicts.
Instead, drug addicts are referred to the generic counselling centres in the country, which accommodate all depression and mental-related cases.
The Zimbabwe United Nations Association estimates that about 65% of Zimbabwean youths suffer from mental problems due to drug and substance abuse, and unemployment.
Zimbabwe’s economy is teetering on the brink of collapse, with unemployment estimated at over 85%, with the hardest hit being the youths, who graduate from school into the world of unemployment and poverty.