By Simbarashe Fenton M
Drug abuse has become a norm amongst the youth in Zimbabwe who are finding it difficult to copy with the harsh economic situation in the country with most of them unemployed even after graduating. The national lockdowns which were implemented to curb the spread of the novel corona virus exacerbated the situation as youths could no longer engage in the informal sector to hustle for a living or do sporting activities to help deal away with the struggles of life.
Bensen (not his real name) an advanced level student at a local school in Kwekwe who used to abuse drugs but has since stopped after getting help and support from rehab and the family as well narrated how he started taking drugs, its effects on his life and how he got help to get better.
“During the lockdown I used to take these drugs, ‘mbanje’, ‘bronco’ and lately ‘mutoriro’. It started due to peer pressure. Then I continued until I was addicted such that there was no turning back. I stopped studying and I became violent and stole money at home to buy drugs. I was very fortunate that my mother did not give up on me and the church helped as well. I have since then stopped abusing drugs and am now clean. I am attending my lessons at school. I hope young people are going to realise that drugs can destroy lives and families, I learned my lesson,” he said.
Due to school closures during the lockdown teenagers have also been indulging in the taking of dangerous substances which not only pose serious health and mental risks but results in violent activities as well. The situation at Manunure High School where the Zimbabwe Republic Police and members of the army have been called to deal with some school going children who were in the habit of machete attacks at school speaks volume of what the drugs are doing to the youths.
“As a parent I am concerned with the alarming rate at which our youths are abusing drugs. Their behaviour has become unbearable such that we are now afraid of them. The government need to take serious measures against this crisis we are facing. Deliberating it in parliament is not enough, we need serious policies, rehabilitation and awareness initiatives on the ground,” said a parent who cannot be named.
Youths in Kwekwe have been in the habit of abusing dangerous drugs such as marijuana (mbanje), sniffing of glue, broncleer (a medical syrup known in the streets as ‘bronco’), ‘maragada’, codeine, cocaine and the recently introduced ‘guka makafela’ which is a street name for crystal meth that is referred to by most youths as ‘mutoriro’ or ‘hweva’ among other names.
Speaking in an interview with this reporter Acting Kwekwe District Head in the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture Edmore Gomo stated that the Covid-19 induced lockdowns have a strong bearing in the spiking of drug abuse among youths since most of them were not going to school, work and also lacked sporting activities.
“The covid-19 global and government restrictions have triggered the spike in drug abuse among the youth in our communities. All of us as Government local authorities, traditional leaders and the community at large we are aware of this menace of ‘drug abuse’ because it is taking place within the communities,” said Gomo.
Gomo highlighted the need for local authorities including the Ministry of Youth Sport and culture to engage other stakeholders in order to acquire resources to create employment and recreational activities for the youths.
“It is my view that both the government and local authorities have tried their best to address some of the youth related issues. We now have the empowerment bank for youth businesses. Some of our local authorities have sport and recreational facilities but they are not well equipped. We need more players to partner our local authorities to provide enough facilities to reduce the menace of drug abuse. There is also need to identify the drug supply chain and make sure perpetrators are arrested,” he said.
However, Section 157 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 makes it illegal to possess, use, ingest, acquire, smoke, deal in, consume, and cultivate drugs.
Taurai Mbanje, the Youth In Combined Action Against Drug and Substance Abuse (YICAADSA) Midlands Chair-person said that there is need for more awareness on drug abuse for the youths especially those in school.
“I think it might have been caused by peer pressure, stress among others, since a lot of young people had nothing to do during the Covid-19 lockdowns hence they turn to drugs such as Mbanje Musombodhiya, glue among others. I also think strict laws should be put in place to empower the police. Again campaign awareness programmes on radio, television against drug abuse should be more as well as including these messages in school curriculums from primary to Advanced level,” he said.
Statistics from the Anti-Drug Abuse Association of Zimbabwe indicate that 43% of students that were interviewed knew of schoolmates who take drugs. The Zimbabwe United Nations Associations also stated that 65% of Zimbabwean Youths suffer from mental health due to substance and drug abuse
The rate at which youths are abusing drugs in Kwekwe is a cause for concern with girls including 12-year-olds also caught in the web. It is therefore every elder’s role in the community to play a part and educate the youths especially school going children on the dangers of drug abuse. Church leaders, parents, civic society organisations, and teachers all have a role to play in educating the children on dangers of drug abuse. Educational programmes in schools should also help sensitise teenagers on the need to resist drug abuse.