(Harare) The young man carefully dismantles a fluorescent lamp, pours methamphetamine into a tube, heats it with a lighter until the white crystals melt, liquefy and smoke.
Posted on Jul 30, 2021 at 2:56 pm
Fanuel JONGWE Agence France-Presse
The 24-year-old Zimbabwean sits in a small room in Glen View, a working-class suburb of the capital, Harare, and breathes in through a straw he shares with a friend. This young agronomy graduate, who asked for anonymity, has been using this drug since last year when the country imposed a harsh prison sentence.
Everything stopped and “we were home, we had nothing to do, so we used drugs to forget about our problems,” he says. “Taking medication is one way to relieve the pain and stress of being inactive.”
“When I take crystal meth, I have a lot of energy,” explains the slim young man and pours the contents of a small bag into the pipe. This drug, relatively new in Zimbabwe, adds to a cocktail of excruciating suffering: pandemic, unemployment, poverty and despair.
At $ 3 a bag, it’s strangely affordable in a country where half the population last year – about 7.9 million people – lived in extreme poverty, according to a recent study by the national statistics agency.
“Drug addiction has increased at an alarming rate, particularly during detention,” notes psychiatrist Anesu Isabel Chinoperekwei. More than two-thirds of the patients she treats in her Harare practice have drug-related symptoms, as does 65% of the patients admitted to psychiatry in public hospitals.
“Methamphetamines have recently become easier to find and are being used more frequently,” she explains in Zimbabwe, because “it is cheaper than alcohol and ubiquitous, it can be found everywhere, even in the middle of a pandemic”.
Police spokesman Paul Nyathi believes that “the drugs entered the country through smuggling,” but does not go into detail.
A whole generation
Hospitals are overwhelmed with addiction problems. “We are now devoting more resources to combating addiction at the expense of other psychological problems,” regrets the doctor.
The addiction to “mutoriro” or “dombo”, the pebble in the Shona language, takes its toll. “Crystal meth is perhaps the only substance that has rivaled the pandemic in the past two years in terms of the number of lives lost in Zimbabwe,” recently noted a columnist for the Sunday Mail, a state newspaper.
The authorities are aware of the crisis that is particularly affecting the densely populated and poor suburbs.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa warned of “unacceptable trends” threatening “the lot of our youth” and stressed the urgent need to “double our collective struggle against this new phenomenon”.
Meanwhile the dead are piling up.
“We are told that young people have succumbed to an overdose,” said Tinashe Chiweshe, advocacy officer with the Civil Liberties and Drugs Network, which regularly organizes support sessions to help consumers quit.
The musician and ex-drug addict Mega Jani, a local star, founded the group Mubatirapamwe (collaboration in Shona) with his siblings to mobilize against drugs.
“A whole generation is being wiped out by drugs,” laments Savannah Madamombe, Jani’s sister, who is in drug hot spots next to the musician in order to curb her consumption.
Concerned Zimbabweans post videos on social media of young drug addicts misbehaving in public.
In Mbare, the capital’s oldest township, 14-year-old girls and boys are already trying crystal meth, according to drug activist Diana Kaera.