The Sunday Mail
The burgeoning trade in hazardous recreational drugs, which scientists believe lower immunity to diseases, is becoming alarmingly pervasive in Zimbabwe.
It could become potentially devastating particularly with the increased community transmissions of the coronavirus.
But what is more worrying is that both drug peddlers and users have become so discreet that they make it almost impossible for law enforcement agents to account for them.
Drugs that are finding a ready local market include cocaine, crystal meth, bronclear and cannabis (marijuana).
Exotic recreational drugs such as cocaine, however, are used mainly by the nouveau riche that frequent high-end joints.
While the trade and use of drugs is not new, authorities are concerned that the growing trend suggests that there are now increasingly being sold at wholesale in the country.
As a result, police are regularly recovering articles meant to process, package and distribute drugs with every drug bust they make.
Crack cocaine worth an estimated US$18 000 was recently recovered from a vehicle and house of a local businessman.
He was found with an assortment of equipment such as cutting utensils, a chemical agent and a scale.
Doctors have naturally become worried by the exponential increase in incidents of drug-related diseases.
“At our mental health institutions, 65 percent of admissions are due to drug abuse. The challenge we have at the moment though is that most of the rehabilitation centres that we have are private institutions. We need to establish Government-run institutions to assist disadvantaged members of society that are at risk but not getting help,” said Zimbabwe Medical Association (ZiMA) secretary-general Dr Sacrifice Chirisa.
“The cases are on a massive increase, with youths between 20 and 35-years-old being the most affected. They are turning to drugs because they have nothing to do. In the past, we had recreational parks and sports centres that kept them busy, but most of the places have since been turned into residential or business stands.”
ZiMA contends that a multi-sectoral approach involving all relevant stakeholders such as the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra), the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, and the Ministry of Health and Child Care was crucial in dealing with the scourge.
Hilton Nyamukapa, programmes manager at Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN), observed that while the price of some of the drugs was steep, there, however, remain “readily available” in communities.
“Most drugs are now readily available in communities, with marijuana being the most commonly used. It is followed by a wide variety of illicit brews popularly known as musombodhiya or cranco, crystal meth, cocaine and heroin. Codeine-based substances such as bronclear and pure codeine pills are also a favourite among the youths, but their price is on the higher side and not very affordable,” said Nyamukapa.
The Harare Magistrates’ Courts have so far dealt with 61 offenders from areas such as Chitungwiza, Norton and Mbare in the six-month period from January and June this year.
Of the cases, only two were arrested for using crystal meth.
The police, however, maintain that the increased cases are as a result of the intensified deployment of law enforcement agents.
“The statistics of drug abuse remain a dark figure until they are detected. The intensified deployment of CID Drugs and Narcotics members in every corner of the country has seen an increase in the detection of concealed drugs,” said Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) national spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi.
“Increased enforcement is the key factor that has attributed to the surge in drug abuse statistics. Special measures like intensified training of all CID Drugs and Narcotics members, use of sniffer dogs, inter-agency cooperation have been put in place to help detect drug use cases throughout the country.”
Recently, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) made the largest haul of cocaine at Beitbridge Border Post, which weighed 80 kilogrammes valued at a staggering R23 million.
The cocaine was being smuggled from Zimbabwe.
The truck carrying the drugs originated from Malawi and had crossed two of Zimbabwe’s borders and travelled freely throughout the country before being nabbed in South Africa.
And the number of drug mules arrested at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International (RGM) Airport has been rising steadily over the years.
In May this year, a kilogramme of cocaine was seized from a peddler by alert security personnel at the airport.
Two years back, another drug bust at the same airport led to a recovery of five kilogrammes of cocaine destined for the local market.
The majority of the arrested drug mules were on their way from Brazil.
But there is also a ready market for recreational drugs like cocaine and crystal methane in neighbouring countries.
Evidence suggests that the bulk of crystal meth is smuggled from South Africa, with haulage truck drivers being blamed as the major traffickers.
Cross-border buses are also implicated.
The meth is said to be hidden in secret truck compartments.
But although the majority of the drug mules have been arrested at the RGM Airport, there are suspicions that some of the drugs are being smuggled into Zimbabwe through the port of Beira in Mozambique.
Apart from cocaine and crystal meth, Zimbabwe is experiencing an influx of marijuana from Mozambique, most of which is transported to Harare through the expansive border.
Daring drug smugglers risk life and limb as they smuggle drugs through landmine-infested border areas in Mutare, Chipinge, Mount Selinda and Mabee.
Meeting some of the peddlers
The Sunday Mail Society went undercover and tried to unravel the extent to which drugs are being abused in Mbare, the country’s oldest suburb and long considered to be notorious for drug trafficking.
The investigations led us to a place located on the banks of Mukuvisi River, which we later learnt was called “Pa Gully”.
“Cocaine is for the rich. We only have one or two locals who deal in cocaine. The trend is that once one makes money from crystal meth; that person will be tempted to deal in cocaine since it has better rewards. After making money, such dealers will eventually relocate to the Avenues,” one of the drug pushers said as he passed us a small sachet of crystal meth.
However, this is not the only notorious outlet. Illegal trade in drugs seems to be thriving in most central business districts across the country.
In the capital, Harare, the Avenues seems to have gained infamy.
It is feared that an intricate web of illegal drug dealers is slowly emerging.
The drug pushers deal mostly with regular clients or “references” as a way to avoid arrests.
“Just give me the money and the deal will be sealed. I have what you need. Do not be scared; I am well connected. Nothing will happen,” a supposed cocaine dealer said in the Avenues area close to a popular supermarket.
A small quantity of crystal meth (equivalent to 10 or so grains of rice) costs about US$10.
Crystal meth (crystal methamphetamine) — known informally as meth, mutoriro, dombo, ice or glass — is a dangerous stimulant that potentially has devastating side effects.
Medical experts say it is known to attack the central nervous system and can cause hallucinations.
Likewise, cocaine affects the heart, causes restlessness and serious mental issues.
“This stuff is found in all parts of the capital and any other place in the country. However, Mbare, especially the area known as Majubheki (Jo’burg Lines), is special. Trade is high here because we have a direct link with suppliers from the Diaspora as most buses that bring us the order offload here,” said another source.
Most of the ordinary drug users cannot afford crystal meth or cocaine.
Instead, they opt for marijuana.
Similarly, there are only a handful of cocaine dealers that operate from the Mbare area.
One could not help but notice that some of the people that frequent a popular nearby music recording studio were also clients at the notorious drug den.
“It is just that I am poor and cannot afford it. I am into coke (cocaine). It is the only drug that makes me live, not mashizha (marijuana),” a young, dreadlocked youth that many referred to as Rasta confessed.
In Mutare and Bulawayo, the peddlers operate mostly from apartments located in the CBD. They disguise themselves as either illegal money changers (forex) or whiskey dealers.
In some instances, they pretend to be selling aphrodisiacs.
Unlike ordinary foreign currency dealers, drug dealers usually ostentatiously display the fruits of their illegal trade, cruising around in expensive cars. They are also fond of expensive whiskeys.
Government, through the Ministry of Home Affairs and Cultural Heritage, believes that most of the drugs are smuggled through illegal entry points.
They also note the need to increase detection efforts.
A recent United Nations world drug report indicates that on average, a gramme of cocaine costs US$80 in Zimbabwe.
Cocaine, according to the report, is most expensive in Kuwait, where it costs a whopping US$330 per gramme.