Moses Letoalo is a rehabilitated addict and runs Sechaba, an NGO in Tshwane which helps youths who struggle with drug problems.
“We have attended to 1 300 families in the five years of operation in townships around Tshwane,” he said.
Letoalo said Sechaba had sent 183 people to rehab for nyaope addiction last year and only 13 have not relapsed.
Nyaope, whoonga (sometimes spelt wunga) or BoMkon is a cheap drug and costs R20 to R30 per packet (or hit) and has been around since the early 2000s. It is a concoction of heroin, dagga and anything else the drug dealers can lay their hands on, Letoalo said. The drug is smoked, usually with tobacco.
“They add rat poison, antiretrovirals and whatever ‘white’ they can find,” Letoalo said.
The drug first made an appearance in townships in Durban in 2010, but has fast spread to other areas in the country – most predominately poor areas in Pretoria and Johannesburg.
The average addict would use five packets per day, which adds up to more than R150 per day, more than the average wage in the country. Some addicts smoke up to 10 packets per day.
“These kids steal everything and from anyone (to fund their drug habit),” he said.
Letoalo tells the story of a family from Mamelodi who lost two children to the drug. “The mother had three children. A twin boy and girl aged 15 and an older son aged 17. They were all addicted to nyaope and the older brother killed the younger brother in an argument about the drug. He just wanted to get his next fix and fought to get it from his brother.”
A few days later his 15-year-old twin sister committed suicide by jumping off the roof of a block of flats.
“There are many such stories. Parents now start to buy the drug for their children to stop them stealing from neighbours.”
Letty Mayephu from the inner city NGO Tshwane Leadership Foundation said the use of the drug is on the increase. “We do three outreaches per week and we see around 30 addicts per day on these outreaches,” she said.
“Some of the women have been using for more than 10 years,” she said. She believes more needs to be done to inform the youth of the consequences of drug abuse.
According to the SA Police Service up to 60% of crimes are directly related to substance abuse. The Central Drug Authority’s figures suggest teenagers who use alcohol or drugs are three times more likely to be involved in a violent crime. There are no statistics available on nyaope but the Department of Social Development said in its annual report the drug is growing in popularity in Tshwane.
Cathy Vos from the South African National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (Sanca) said the council treats mostly addicts of nyaope between the ages of 18 and 30 but occasionally encounters children as young as eight addicted to the drug.
Sanco releases its annual drug abuse figures in April and Vos said the true picture of the problem will only then emerge.