It’s just after 09:00 on a Wednesday morning and one can’t help but wonder why the young boy on the corner isn’t in school.
He is aimlessly pacing about and we think our luck has finally changed. This may be it. This guy may be willing to sell us some drugs!
My colleague and I have previously been directed to two alleged drug dealers’ houses. When we tried to score, however, the occupants turned us away. Maybe we shouldn’t have worn our good shirts? Or I probably shouldn’t have gotten that haircut? What does the average drug user look like anyway?
We stop next to the boy on the corner and wave him over.
“Hi. Do you know where we can buy something?” I ask him, simultaneously pinching my nostrils. He instantly understands. “What do you want?” is the reply. “Some lines? Some speed? I can go show you where to get some, but you’ll have to give me something too?”
We convince him to give us the directions for free, but quickly realise we’ve already drawn a blank at the house he has pointed us to.
I start doubting Police MEC, Butana Komphela’s, assertion that Heidedal is Bloemfontein’s drug mecca, where anything and everything is available to kids as young as twelve. We decide to give it one last try, though.
We ask one more passer-by for directions to a good, reputable drug dealer.
“I’m on my way to one now,” is the reply. Finally! We’re in luck. We get in and he leads us to a house in Hillcrest Street. We pop into a shack in the backyard and I’m greeted by several familiar faces. People I went to school with and some I used to play football with in this very street? I guess it’s true that one really can’t tell who is a drug dealer from simply looking at them. We have, after all, driven past these same guys twice this morning.
According to the businessmen in the shack, anything is available in the streets of Heidedal. You simply have to ask the right people.
“You can get cat, buttons (mandrax), tik (crystal meth) or rocks (crack cocaine) for R50,” one of them tells me, “but you know you’re going to have to pay more for good lines (cocaine). And make sure you always buy from us. Most of the other guys around here sell s**t. We won’t knock you,” I’m assured by him.
While we are talking, a couple of customers walk in. Pink notes change hands and they leave with their rocks. My surprise at seeing childhood friends selling drugs is matched by their shock at me buying from them. They’re shocked but not unwilling to do business. Minutes later, I walk away with R50’s worth of cat (short for methcathinone and also known as speed).
According to municipal councillor for Heidedal, Vernon Ward, the drug trade in the neighbourhood is booming and he is surprised at how long it took us to score. “We’ve got a serious problem. The police do raids, people get locked up and so on, but currently we still face problems with nyaope, gafief, and all drugs are just available very easily in Heidedal.”
Ward says burglaries and violent robberies in the area have skyrocketed of late, as addicts have to resort to crime in order to feed their habits. “For some reason flat-screen TVs are among the most popular things to get stolen. And children steal their mothers’ things. It’s even affecting our schools, because users differ in age from thirteen up to 35.”
At the launch of the Mangaung Metro Municipality’s Local Anti-drug Committee (LADC), Executive Mayor, Thabo Manyoni, urged locals to take the fight against drugs into their own hands.
In Heidedal, where many parents depend on the income of their young children, this may be easier said than done. These same drug dealers are the ones putting food on their family’s tables and they say poverty is a major driving force behind their decisions.
Ironically, many users blame their addiction on the same thing, despite somehow being able to afford several rocks or little bags of cat per day. According to author, Tefo Litswanoe, peer pressure also plays a role in children’s decisions to use drugs.
Litswanoe says despite never using nyaope himself, many of his friends are addicts and he has helped them commit robberies in order to feed their habits. “If you see someone who hasn’t smoked, he is calm, cool and collected. After having smoked, everything is easy for him to do. He will rob you, even in daylight, because he wants more and more and more.”
Litswanoe now volunteers his time to a project of the Department of Correctional Services that is aimed at preventing youngsters from getting hooked. He echoes Manyoni’s statement of taking the fight against drugs into the communities. They say support systems are integral and these will be put in place by the LADC in order to get addicts into rehabilitation programmes, while helping families cope with the social ills attached to the problem.
As for me, the sunken cheekbones and frail shapes of my fellow customers at that shack in Hillcrest Street were enough to ensure I don’t get hooked. Instead, my hard-earned drugs took a trip down the nearest toilet. – EARL COETZEE