WHILE the focus at the Harare Magistrates’ Court last Friday was on two opposition CCC legislators and 23 party activists who had spent 13 days in jail after convening at a house in Budiriro suburb, 10 youths in Court Nine were convicted for possession of crystal meth in the space of an hour.
Anti-riot police and civilians filled Court Four and its vicinity to hear the bail ruling of legislators Amos Chibaya and Costa Machingauta and 23 others, but in Court Nine, 10 youths were waiting to appear before a magistrate, and were later convicted for possession of crystal meth in the space of an hour.
The youths appeared individually after being arrested in various parts of Harare, indicating the prevalence of Zimbabwe’s drug problem.
The convictions and sentences happened during the afternoon court sessions.
Each of the convicts, aged between 17 and 30, pleaded guilty to the charges. Some were remanded for sentencing while others were handed a custodial sentence or community service.
The convictions come at a time when the expulsion of eight girls from the Roman Catholic-owned Dominican Convent High School for abuse of the same substance during a leadership excursion in Nyanga, is still topical in the country.
The expulsion served as a wake-up call that substance abuse has spread beyond the high-density suburbs and is now also prevalent in low-density communities.
The abuse of crystal meth in particular has been on the increase, especially in low-income areas where drug bases have been established. Some addicts have developed mental health problems as a result.
Known scientifically as methamphetamine, crystal meth is a highly addictive stimulant and users love the drug for its powerful euphoric qualities. Addictive on first smoke, the drug has become a crippling vice for the country’s youths who take the illegal substance to escape from daily troubles.
Also known as mutoriro, dombo, buwe, guka makafela in street lingo, the infamous drug has destroyed lives across the country’s townships.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police launched a crack team in January 2021 to tackle drug abuse as the problem soared, but the accused persons that are landing in court are the end users that have between 0.01 grammes of the substance and 2 grammes, as the cases involving the 10 youths convicted last Friday showed.
Social commentators say arresting users of illicit substances may not be enough to curb the crisis as long as suppliers go scot free.
Across the length and breadth of the country, people are asking why the drug lords appear untouchable.
Last month, just before being thrown into jail for fraud, former television presenter Oscar Pambuka said the best way of tackling the drug menace is to clamp down on the drug lords.
“Everyone uses drugs, so the nation needs to address it from the root kwazviri kupinda nazvo kwete kuaddresser macustomer (the source of the drugs, not the end user),” he said.
“How does crystal meth get into the country, who lets it inside the country. This country has about 16 million people, let’s say the customers are about 1 million, can we arrest 1 million people?”
The substance has destroyed the lives of users, from youths to adults. The effects of using methamphetamine include feelings of euphoria, but there are also dangerous side effects including increased attention, higher levels of activity and talkativeness, decreased appetite, reduced fatigue, a feeling of power and self-control and a pleasurable sense of well-being or euphoria.
Users may also experience faster breathing, a fast or irregular heartbeat, higher blood pressure, raised body temperature, increased distractibility, nausea, dry mouth, dilated pupils, tremors, muscle twitching, memory loss, aggressive or violent behaviour and mood disturbances.
Other side effects include severe dental problems, weight loss, skin sores from intense itching, rapid or irregular heart rate, feelings of aggressiveness and anxiety.
The following symptoms of psychosis are also possible: paranoia, aggression, visual and auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, delusions, such as the sensation of insects creeping on or under the skin, and incessant thoughts of homicide or suicide.
Crystal meth became popular in Zimbabwe at the peak of the Covid-19 restrictions in 2020, when our borders were sealed.
The situation was exacerbated by the fact that youth and young adults alike were idle and these substances were readily available.
A senior nursing officer at Sally Mugabe Hospital, Nelson Makore, told the Associated Press in an interview that the number of people admitted in the psychiatric ward had grown exponentialy five-fold due to substance abuse.
“If you look at people who came through our hospital getting services because they had problems of drug abuse, I can safely tell you that there were 825 in number, that is a very big number in comparison with the previous year which had 150,” said Makore.
Two years later, the problem is getting worse by the day.
Practitioners in the field of social work say the government can do more in fighting the drug menace.
“When it comes to children, the responsible Department of Social Development needs to step up, especially where children are exposed to drug use at home. Also, as long as the government is not willing to fund rehabilitation and drug counselling services, it’s difficult to move forward. You have thousands of social workers and psychologists sitting at home who could be useful, especially in intensive drug use counselling,” said one practitioner who spoke on condition of anonymity.
It costs about US$30 to get the service at Sally Mugabe Hospital, but costs hundreds of dollars at private rehabilitation institutions.