INext to a small room in Kuwadzana, a Harare municipality, Solomon Sigauke * and his friends talk animatedly about soccer and listen to loud music. Hazy meth vapor fills the room as they take turns in a fluorescent pipe.
Sigauke, 25, does not have a cigarette lighter, so he improvises, holding a lit candle while his friend Kudzo blows out smoke from the burning substance, known locally as In a jar. .
It is 7 p.m. in Kuwadzana, about nine miles from Harare’s central business district, where many young people have ventured into dangerous and illicit drugs as a mutoriro, and the numbers are increasing as the closure isolates them from their jobs and from your usual social life.
Scientifically known as methamphetamine, crystalline methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that is used for its powerful euphoric effects.
Sigauke demonstrates the process of decrystallization of the white chemical into a smoky brown stain. The curved tubing is made from disused energy-saving light bulb fluorescent tubes that are cleaned and sold to drug users for $ 1.
As he exhales a cloud of toxic smoke, his friends laugh at Sigauke’s drooling face. “You have to be careful not to ingest the smoke because it causes stomach pain,” explains Sigauke.
Although the drug has been used in Zimbabwe for some years, its use has increased in municipalities as the economic crisis grips the country, leaving few job prospects for its young people. Zimbabwe has almost 90% unemployment, and young people are the most affected.
“This drug will make you enter another zone completely; we can spend all night talking and having fun. We live in a world of our own and we can even forget about our daily problems, ”says Sigauke.
He adds that as schools have closed due to the Covid pandemic, teens are now joining their ranks.
“These days you find little girls taking the substance. Most of them come here to smoke this thing. At 1 am, you will find most of the children flooding the streets smoking methamphetamine; it’s like watching a movie. These children have gone wild, ”says Sigauke.
A gram of methamphetamine costs $ 12, a high cost for most users in municipalities and equivalent to a week’s rent for a room in a municipality. Drug traffickers have taken advantage of the use of foreign currency as legal tender in the country to milk the drug-thirsty market. One supplier explains that crystalline methamphetamine is smuggled into the country through Zimbabwe’s porous borders with South Africa.
“If I had money, I would buy it every day,” says Sigauke.
Mbare, the oldest and one of the most populated suburbs in Harare, is known for drug abuse. “Blah” Bullet sells meth there. He says the market is growing rapidly, and explains that previously only the youth from the wealthy suburbs could afford it, but now the youth are turning to drugs in the municipalities, where there is little else to offer.
Bullet makes $ 200 a day from its sales, which have increased since the start of the shutdown in Zimbabwe last March, and it has a network of drug outlets in the city where it also sells other drugs such as cannabis, as well as prescription drugs that commonly misused such as codeine, Broncleer cough syrup, which contains codeine, and lozenges that are generally prescribed to combat mental illness.
Despite the prohibitive costs, many addicts find a way to finance their insatiable appetite by selling their possessions, while others are driven to steal.
Sigauke was kicked out of his parents’ home last year after selling his appliances. His addiction has led to cold relationships with his father, says his friend Marlon Muchaka, 24.
“His father doesn’t want to see him. He almost reported Solo to the police for his behavior, ”says Muchaka.
“There are people who say that this drug is dangerous, but people keep using it because it is not so deadly. I quit other drugs because they don’t give me the satisfaction I need, ”says Sigauke.
“Sometimes I feel agitated and angry; I don’t like the way I feel, but it’s the drug. I find myself saying things that I regret. I’m just a free-spirited person when I’m intoxicated, ”he says.
“This drug has altered my sleeping patterns. Last year, due to overuse, I couldn’t sleep for a week and when I finally slept, it took me two days to wake up. My landlord thought I had died inside my room. That’s when they advised me to take it easy, ”says Sigauke.
Donald Mabhuku *, 29, is a security guard living in Highfield Township in Harare. He says the drug helps him stay awake during his night shifts.
“I like these things, they just do it for me. I can do my job all night without even falling asleep. It is good if you want to do something productive with your time. But I don’t advise young people to take this drug, ”he says.
An emaciated Mabhuku has experienced extreme weight loss since he started using the drug two years ago. “I lost a lot of weight due to overuse of methamphetamine; It was bad, but now that I’m getting used to it, I’m getting my weight back. But eating is still a problem. Most people lose weight due to lack of sleep, ”he says.
Meth smoking comes with its own culture and jargon of its own, and is often associated with Zimdancehall music.
“We have our own language here. Our language is like reverse words, so that no one else understands what we are talking about, ”says Mabhuku.
Natasha Chipendo * is also addicted to methamphetamine and has run away from home. The 22-year-old has tried to quit smoking in the past. “I just find myself coming back to that,” he says.
With many young people battling drug addiction, the healthcare system has been found to be lacking. Zimbabwe’s hospitals cannot treat addicts and the few rehabilitation centers are expensive. Peace Maramba, a mental health expert, says the lack of public rehabilitation centers has worsened drug-induced mental health problems in the country.
“In Zimbabwe we do not have rehabilitation centers in government institutions. It is unfortunate that mental health has been neglected for a long time, but I am glad that through funding from the World Health Organization, there is hope that we can help more people, ”says Maramba.
He says that accessing any mental health service is prohibitively expensive for youth in municipalities and blamed illicit substance use on peer pressure and Zimbabwe’s relentless financial problems.
While rehab is achievable for drug addicts, Maramba says that most drug users often relapse when they have nowhere to go other than to return to slums where the peer pressure they faced before remains along with the same daily problems.
* Names have been changed.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism