Banned drugs flood Zimbabwe

A group of youths prepare a drug fix just behind market square bus terminus in Harare. (Image: Khuluma Afrika January February 2017)
A group of youths prepare a drug fix just behind market square bus terminus in Harare. (Image: Khuluma Afrika January February 2017)

“Cocaine, crack cocaine, meth, codeine, diazepam… it just depends on the kind of high a person is looking for”

This is Crispen. No. That’s not his real name. Crispen is a Zimbabwean drug lord based in Harare. He agreed to talk to Khuluma Afrika, on condition of anonymity. Crispen was born in Mbare, a densely populated neighbourhood some 5km outside the city center.

By Maynard Manyowa and Prince Butawo

Crispen sells all kinds of drugs, except for crystal meth, which he claims is sold out of Highfields, another high-density suburb 12km outside of the city.

Zimbabwe’s rising drug abuse epidemic is a new phenomenon. Until recently, the only available drugs were marijuana and ‘bronco’ – a cough syrup manufactured in South Africa. But cocaine has made its way.

“Everyone now wants upfu (mealie meal) – (the street name for cocaine)” Crispen says.

Crispen claims he pushes big volumes. He sells in town, and sends boys to places where large numbers of people gather to party. He uses prostitutes as well to push drugs to johns.

On the street, a gram of cocaine sells for $80 a gram. Other drugs like meth sell for $50 a gram. It makes them out of reach for the majority of Zimbabweans. But Crispen has come up with a plan.

“We sell a fix. Like one sniff (cocaine) we make it about $10.” He says.

A lot of the drugs are manufactured outside of Zimbabwe and then smuggled through the border.

It is a lucrative business, which those involved claim is turning them into millionaires.

At Bosman Station, is another Zimbabwean. Let’s call him Casper. Casper drives an exquisite 2016 Audi. He came to South Africa in 2009 and worked as a waiter until 2014 when he ventured into the illegal exportation of bronco – a prescription cough syrup, containing codeine.

“I went from sharing a room in Pretoria to living in Kyalami Estates. I have four wives and they all drive top range cars”

“Anything with codeine is my prime product. But lately I now move a lot of ephedrine. Even ecstasy pills are now big bucks”

Ephedrine is the base substance used to manufacture cocaine, crystal meth, and methcathinone.

Casper spends most of his day at Bosman station, shipping boxes of prescription medication. His main transporters are bus drivers who hide the boxes in luggage compartments.

The cost of purchasing one bottle of cough medication in South Africa and sending it to Zimbabwe is about $2.80. Once there, each bottle sells for between $7 to $10 USD. Casper sends at least 500 bottles a day, and sells 5,000 a week. Factoring in middle men, he claims he makes at least $15,000 USD a week.

Most discussions about drug abuse in Zimbabwe often neglect substances like cocaine, heroin and alcohol, traditionally because substance abuse has been limited to marijuana and recently prescription cough medication.

But experts contend the ‘imported banned substances’ problem is bigger and includes drugs traditionally thought to be impossible to find in Zimbabwe and those not thought to be dangerous.

“By far the drug most abused is alcohol due to its ease of acquisition and price. Illicit illegal alcoholic drinks are smuggled into the country, mostly from Mozambique, and these are untested and their ingredients are not known. For US 50c, one can purchase a 300ml bottle of these concoctions which are believed to contain toxic, dangerous chemicals like isopranol, a disinfectant found in mouthwash or skin lotions, or methanol, a solvent founds in paints and industrial cleaning fluids” says Benson Mudiwa, a Zimbabwean medical doctor based in Swaziland.

While these drugs are making millionaires out of the likes of Casper and Crispen, they are creating problems in Zimbabwe.

The effects of drugs on the human body as well as the public health system has been written about several times. A new effect, imported from South Africa, together with the drugs is mushrooming in town.

‘Nyaope boys’ – vagrant drug addicts who mill around street corners and engage in petty –  crime have surfaced in the streets of Harare. They mill around places like the bus terminuses at Market Sqaure, Coppacabana, 4th Street and along Fife avenue shops. They take some of these drugs until they pass out, and wake up to redo the drill.

The addicts, victims of this new wave of drug abuse, are a fire the country may struggle to extinguish.

“Unfortunately, the country is found wanting when it comes to helping and rehabilitating drug users, with the public-sector facility programs almost non-existent, and only one private facility rehabilitating drug users in Harare. Organisations like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) also have a lethargic almost insignificant presence in Zimbabwe” says Dr Benson Mudiwa.

Khuluma Afrika requested statistics on drug related crimes in Harare from the police’s Outpost Mag in January. At the time of writing they had not responded.