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Series: Vulnerable Youth In Zimbabwe's Townships Are Easy Targets For Drug Peddlars

It wasn’t until Albert Chauka*, 29, tried to sell the last of his valuable assets – a bed and blankets – that he finally opened his eyes to the reality that the drug he puffed with his friends had become a dangerous vice.

By Emmanuel Kafe,

On a blistering summer morning in Epworth’s Free Magada, a township about 13km outside central Harare, Zimbabwe, Chauka shared his story - a painful tale of addiction to Crystal Meth - with me.

Wearing an infectious smile, he welcomed me into his safe haven - a grimy room detached from the main house.

Smelly cigarette butts were untidily scattered on one side of the room while on the other side was a bed suspended on bricks and on top sat worn-out blankets.

Beneath his seemingly cheery exterior was a layered story of depression, despair, sleepless nights, and hallucinations.

The 29-year-old was already clad in black clothing, a symbol that he is mourning his former self - the young sober man who was not drowned in this dangerous vice.

Once we were seated - he admitted that he had already sold most of his possessions, including a television set he stole from his parents just so he could get a fix.

His parents, devastated by the betrayal, kicked him out of the main house after they realised his stealing had become a habit. Stealing from his parents is a decision he said he regretted but at the time of the incident he was willing to risk everything for another joint.

Albert reassured me at different points of our interview that he hadn't always been like this. He was once a sober man working as a shop attendant in downtown Harare. He once had friends and the prospect of a love life.

It was, however, during lockdown after the virus pandemic plunged hundreds of young people into a state of unemployment that he - like many others - became gripped by the rise of Crystal Meth that has ravaged teenagers living in townships.

South Africa is already known to be home to the largest and most established meth consumption market in East and southern Africa but it appears over the course of the pandemic - Zimbabwe is now suffering its own crisis.

Explaining how he spent the better part of his formative years smoking just cannabis and later crystal meth, Albert said he was initiated into the world of drugs shortly after he gained admission into University four-years ago.

“Just like many other innocent and depressed youths, I was initiated into it by some of my course mates. I am a product of a dysfunctional family who always felt depressed every time I returned home from college. My parents were always picking quarrels over one domestic issue or the other,” he said.

He claimed that his "miserable mood" had caught the attention of some peers who allegedly introduced him to the life-threatening drugs to cheer him up.

“That is how I got hooked. My family and siblings knew something was wrong with me. But I couldn't bring myself to tell them what I was passing through for fear of stigma."

The idea of gang members or drug peddlers preying on young and often vulnerable people is not new.

It Only Takes A Light Bulb

Moments after speaking about his past and how he landed where he is now - he told me that his heart had started racing, adding that with every beat, his body begged for relief.

“Cravings make me weak and I usually feel cramps all over my body – I sometimes even feel like vomiting,” he said, adding that he was in desperate need of US$5 which could buy him almost a gram of Meth.

Known scientifically as Methamphetamine - and gukamakafela, mutoriro, buwe or dombo on the streets of Epworth, Zimbabwe - the drug is a highly addictive stimulant used for its euphoric effects.

Despite the prohibitive costs of US$5 to US$12 many addicts like Albert find a way to fund their appetite by selling their possessions, while others are driven to steal.

Quite often their actions lead them to get disowned from their families or worse - jail.

Just moments into our discussion - he took an almost worn-out US$2 dollar and shoved it in his pocket before stealthily going outside to what appeared to be a drug peddler on the other side of the street just adjacent to his house.

I watched - while seated in the room - as they made their transaction.

Drugs in this locale are cheaper compared to those sold in leafy suburbs.

In this area peddlers sell them cheap to push more volumes for quick returns. It's easy money to them.

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