World Bulletin/News Desk
It's a warm night in Mayfair, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city.
Most businesses have already closed, except for a few drug dealers on the street corners awaiting their usual customers.
A group of five untidily dressed young men walk from the Mayfair Train Station and head straight for a street corner on the central road.
They can be seen giving money to a drug dealer who hands them a small plastic packet containing Nyaope, a cheap cocktail of drugs.
Nyaope is a mixture of different substances, including heroin, marijuana, rat poison and anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) used to treat HIV patients. A small plastic packet of Nyaope sells for about 20 rand (roughly $1.80).
The five young men speed away after taking their drugs, heading towards Newtown near Johannesburg.
We followed them at a distance. About 15 minutes later, they were sitting under a bridge rolling their drugs into joints to smoke.
We introduced ourselves to the youths and they immediately became hostile – before our guide convinced them to talk to us.
"I left home last year after becoming addicted to Nyaope," a 16-year-old, who identified himself as Tupak Zondi, told Anadolu Agency.
"I used to steal and sell items from my parents' home, but when they caught me, I decided to leave," he added, puffing on his joint.
Zondi also dropped out of school. He now looks much older than his actual age, with drug abuse and rough living having taken a toll.
Layers of black dirt now run across his once clean, light-skinned face.
Like most addicts, Zondi has not had a bath for several weeks. His hair is unkempt, his teeth are yellow and his lips are parched.
"When I wake up in the morning, I just think of one thing: smoking Nyaope," he said.
Zondi says his body feels weak, his stomach growls and, at times, he shakes if he does not take the drug.
"It's like an energy drink for me," he added, a slight smile on his face while his friends laugh.
He feeds his addiction by collecting and selling scrap metal. Sometimes, however, he turns to crime to raise money.
"Sometimes we rob people who walk on foot at night," Zondi admitted. "We take their money and cellphones."
When asked to have his picture taken, Zondi declined and abruptly ended the interview.
One of his friends allowed himself to be photographed, but declined to give his identity.
He took us to a nearby park where he demonstrated the process involved in rolling Nyaope into joints for smoking.
He unwrapped the plastic packet, mixed marijuana into it, and rolled the mixture up in a white rolling paper before lighting it.
"This drug is powerful. It takes away all my stress," he said between puffs.
In his 30s, he said he did different types of drugs, blaming chronic unemployment for his habit.
"Since coming to Johannesburg, I could not find a job and so resorted to drugs," he said.
"Sometimes I find menial jobs. But I use the money for drugs and food," he added.
He says he has seen many young lives destroyed as a result of Nyaope.
"I know many young boys and girls from well-to-do families who dropped out of school and joined us smoking this drug," he said.
David Bayever of the CDA, South Africa's official drug control organization, said it was difficult to determine the number of drug addicts in the country.
"It's very complex," he told AA. "There are many different types of drug abusers. We learn of them whenever they are arrested, in hospital or when they go to rehabilitation centers."
According to Bayever, the CDA depends largely on figures provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Along with nyaope, some of the most commonly abused drugs in the country include alcohol, marijuana, heroin and cocaine.
Most drugs are brought into South Africa by drug cartels that distribute them through a network of dealers.
A few, however, are manufactured locally.
Clara Monnakgotla, national community developer at the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, an NGO, says her organization has noticed a decrease in the average age of drug abusers.
"What we have noticed is that the age of substance abusers is decreasing – and this is very concerning," she told AA.
She said that, despite legislation banning the consumption of alcohol by children under 18, many minors were now involved in binge drinking and drug abuse.
"It has impacted our society very negatively; most social ills are now linked to substance abuse," Monnakgotla explained.
She said leading causes of drug abuse included trauma, poverty, peer pressure, depression and availability.
"We are engaged in the stakeholder networks with our government departments and other entities to form integrated strategies to reduce the harm, demand and supply of substance abuse," Monnakgotla told AA.
She said her NGO's centers were providing prevention and treatment services to local communities.
South African police, meanwhile, say they are working tirelessly to fight the illicit drug trade.
"We just pounced on drugs worth 85 million rand from Mpumalanga," police spokesman Paul Ramoloko told AA by phone.
He said police had busted major drug hauls in different parts of the country.
"Drug consumers will feel the pinch this season," the spokesman added. "Last year, we dismantled 34 drug laboratories and a number of people were arrested."
He said narcotics worth millions of rand had been confiscated in recent drug busts, while several people – both South Africans and foreigners – had been arrested.Last Mod: 08 Kasım 2014, 12:33