With the worsening economic and social difficulties in the country, many Zimbabweans are now turning to hard drugs, with cocaine and other narcotics seemingly the most favoured intoxicants.
A two-month-long investigation by NewsDay has shown that many youths are resorting to “illegal highs” right under the noses of parents and authorities, who seem to have been caught flat-footed.
Cocaine, referred to as dota (ash) or upfu (mealie-meal) by locals, is quite popular among youths from rich backgrounds and upmarket sex workers, who ply their trade in and around major cities and towns in the country.
It is rife in the unofficial red-light districts of the Avenues, Chisipite, Mandara, Borrowdale, Glen Lorne and several leafy surburbs in and around Harare.
There have been questions on how drugs were brought into the country, with theories ranging from them being trafficked by cross-border traders to them being smuggled in imported ex-Japanese cars.
Cocaine, also known as benzoylmethylecgonine or coke, is a strong stimulant mostly used as a recreational drug. It is commonly snorted, inhaled or injected into the veins.
It is thought that when crack cocaine is smoked, the muscles tense and the heart beats faster. The person experiences exhilaration as a result of the release of specific mood hormones.
At the same time that the heart beats faster, the blood vessels constrict, resulting in elevated blood pressure. At any time, this change can result in a heart attack, stroke or cardiac arrest.
But what could be driving multitudes of Zimbabweans into venturing into drug peddling across the world?
The wild parties that have become the order of the day, particularly in Harare and Bulawayo, which are frequented by adults and some teenagers, have left many wondering whether the social fabric has broken down.
In the investigations, it became clear that drug lords targeted young people, mainly the unemployed and school pupils, to push volumes.
It is not surprising that students from different schools in Harare were early this year arrested after organising nude parties at a house in the Westgate area and in Chitungwiza respectively.
Pictures of some of the semi-nude students, most of them reportedly still in high school, went viral on social media networks.
These parties have been called all kinds of names from vuzu parties to pool parties, as both the youth and adults indulge while high on illegal drugs.
From 2012 to date, 24 Zimbabwean women were arrested and some are still stuck in Asian jails – at least 16 convicted of drug smuggling and several others awaiting the conclusion of their trials with the possibility of facing the death penalty if convicted.
In May this year, a 37-year-old woman from Zimbabwe was caught with 12kg of a chemical narcotic, suspected to be methaqualone, worth over $200 000 by customs officers at the Mumbai international airport in India in the early hours while she was leaving the country.
With the global proliferation of drug mules being arrested and sentenced to long prison terms or even death in Asian countries, Titus* — a NewsDay source and recovering drug addict — whose parents are Zanu PF politburo members and Cabinet ministers – revealed a gut-wrenching story of how cocaine is moved from Tanzania to Zimbabwe.
He claimed that drug lords, believed to be Tanzanian, Congolese, Nigerian and Cameroonian nationals, together with well-connected Zimbabweans who operate shops in Harare’s central business district, Belvedere, Sam Levy’s and Fife Avenue pay drug mules up to $5 000 to smuggle the hard drugs into the country, while several top Zanu PF officials (names supplied), including a suspended former Cabinet minister, were direct beneficiaries of drug dealing.
“We use condoms; these are washed clean to remove the lubricants after which the mules are asked to swallow anything between 5 to 10 grams of the hard drug. It should normally take three days from Dar es Salaam to Harare and one should not eat during that period,” Titus said.
In the event one has to eat, they are supposed to first use the toilet, eat their food, wash the package and swallow it again.
“For this, drug mules are paid $5 000,” Titus said.
Asked what happens if the condom bursts, Titus said with a chuckle: “That’s the end of you”.
“I know the kingpins (drug lords) in this business. I have introduced some of them to my parents and some meetings
are held at our place. They pay huge sums because they want protection in the event they are busted. If you want I can call one of them and have a meeting immediately. I was with one yesterday. He’s got 5kg of the stuff. The stuff is in different colours – white, cream and so forth. It’s a dangerous game. I blame my brother for initiating me into this business. Although I am recovering, I have relapsed many times. My girlfriend (name withheld) is also recovering, but her family thinks I am the one who taught her the vice, yet we met at a Chisipite house (address provided) while we were both doing drugs,” Titus said.
The story evokes memories of a Tanzanian national who died in Zimbabwe in October 2012 while allegedly attempting to smuggle 1,4kg of heroin into South Africa. The victim, Ally Omari Mpili, had sealed the drugs in 80 small sachets before swallowing them whole. His two associates later tried to retrieve his corpse, before they were arrested by authorities.
Police took the body to Vineyard Funeral Parlour in Harare while a postmortem was due to take place. The postmortem, carried out on October 25 at Parirenyatwa Hospital by a local pathologist, confirmed the presence of heroin in Mpili’s intestines.
Titus took the NewsDay crew on a tour of hotspots, where the product is sold and consumed including the unofficial red-light district.
“There are houses, flats and a church from Belvedere to Chisipite where these drugs are taken by people of all ages,” he said.
“Drugs have destroyed my life, my man, (referring to news crew) and a lot others. I lost in excess of $500 000 in the last eight years since I was introduced to cocaine by my brother. He used to stay in the United States, where he was sent to study, but ended up doing drugs. My mother (Zanu PF politburo member) had to travel there to collect him after he went quiet for several years. Now he’s staying at the farm in Juliusdale. My parents have also banished me to another farm in Harare South.”
Among the drug lords is a man who normally directs operations from a church building and shop in Harare. Word on the street is that most of the illicit deals are being carried out with the blessing of some police officers, who were paid “protection fees” of up to $500 per week.
While NewsDay was not able to ascertain the authenticity of police involvement, it was established that business was brisk for drug peddlers. Titus named several police officers who are paid “protection fees”, with some working on behalf of their seniors.
A NewsDay crew was able to buy cocaine in the city centre to prove that the sale of the drug was prevalent, but when seeking comment from the police, the police demanded to be part of the purchasing crew to prove that such illicit deals were taking place in their full glare.
The police and the news crew raised money for another hit and Titus organised a meeting in the Avenues with drug peddlers, who later switched the venue without any explanation. After two hours of being sent from pillar to post, the transaction was completed, and the news crew managed to score half a gram of cocaine.
A senior police officer (named), who was driving the crew around, watched in disbelief, as the transaction was being conducted swiftly while others pretended to fix their vehicle.
After that exposé a high-level meeting involving NewsDay Editor Wisdom Mdzungairi, police spokesperson Charity Charamba, her deputy Paul Nyathi and head of fraud Elvis Mvere was held and it was agreed that something had to be done.
The police promised to organise themselves and provide a comment before publication of the story.
For almost 10 days there was no feedback although Mvere had indicated he had an “untainted” crack team that had been assigned to deal with NewsDay enquiries.
Later, a five-member team, headed by a Chief Superintendent Masekera, asked to meet the NewsDay crew over the drugs investigation. The team also comprised junior officers drawn from Chitungwiza, Warren Park, Rhodesville and Police General Headquarters.
After deliberations, a plan was agreed on.
The meeting with Titus went well, despite a few hiccups, as he bought the well-laid story and a date was set for the news crew to go around the city in search of more cocaine.
Unexpectedly, Titus seemed desperate for money and it was suspected he had relapsed and was back to drugs.
Titus was promised more money and the NewsDay crew seemingly afraid to rock the boat, gave him $100.
At the time of the meeting, the crew arrived in a Ford Ranger, but Titus immediately suspected something was amiss, saying this was a police vehicle. The car is unmarked, but telltale signs are that it did not have any licence discs, raising suspicion.
“Is this not a police vehicle? Why does it not have a licence disc or insurance?” he queried.
With the deal about to go sideways, the news crew told Titus that the car was used by AMH executives.
“It is a vehicle normally used by our executives; you know these big guys can get anything they want. So no worries you are in safe hands.”
This seemed to pacify him.
A man of mixed race, who had just joined the trade, said he had a garage in Chisipite, but it was suspected that it was a front for his illicit trade.
The news crew then drove around Chisipite, and to a new house near Kamfinsa Shopping Centre, the red-light district, and the police were convinced that something fishy was afoot. For two weeks, police dodged and failed in their commitment to provide NewsDay with a definitive comment on the drug trade. Mvere later said he was on leave, while Masekera’s mobile phone went unanswered.
With that, NewsDay is left with no choice, but to run the story.
*Not his real name