AS the Zimbabwean government sets up an inter-ministerial taskforce to fight an endemic drug problem, there is another crisis brewing in schools, with scholars now part of the drug racket, The NewsHawks can report.
A local non-governmental organisation, which has been at the forefront of the drugs fight, confirmed the rampant drug abuse in schools, with scholars, mainly boys, skipping class to get a fix. Drugs like crystal meth, commonly known as mutoriro in street lingo, cannabis cakes and other dangerous substances, have found their way into schools, sparking another crisis.
Zimbabwe re-opened schools a fortnight ago after nearly six months fighting a deadly third wave of Covid-19. Parents had pinned their hopes on the re-opening of schools to deal with redundancy, which had led many scholars into drugs.
But parents have another crisis on their hands as the drugs are now being peddled in schools.
Disguised as muffins, “ganja cakes” are also being sold in schools by other school children, working with drug syndicates which have terrorised townships, setting up bases flooding the market with dangerous narcotics.
Mutoriro has also become popular in schools since they re-opened, according to Mubatirapamwe, a local NGO working with communities around Harare. In Warren Park, parents have reported cases of drug abuse among their children who are now in the habit of skipping class to sniff the dangerous substances.
Mubatirapamwe co-founder Savannah Madamombe told The NewsHawks that drug peddlers had found new avenues to push their contraband and schools have become easy targets. “It is still business as usual, but we are now seeing substances being pushed in schools. They use their pen barrels to sniff these substances,” Madamombe said.
“Parents are saying children are bunking lessons to do drugs. These drugs are also being sold in schools and we have a real problem on our hands,” she added. Madamombe, who has been involved in rehabilitating youths hooked on dangerous drugs like mutoriro, said the government needs to step up enforcement and cover all areas, to stop the peddling of illicit drugs.
“We need a serious operation because it is business as usual in townships and children are now affected,” Madamombe said.
It is worrying that the government’s medium-term strategy towards drugs does not involve raising awareness in schools, where the new drug racket is taking root.
“Establishment of family support structures and facilities to address the negative impacts of substance and drug addiction on the immediate and extended family, for example, family clubs, churches and faith-based organisations.
The national drug net has become sophisticated, as druglords look to penetrate new markets like schools. In the Mashonaland Central capital, Bindura, and Guruve, a dangerous beer called Tumbwa has ravaged lives. Disguised in freezit packaging, parents fear the dangerous homemade whiskey will be sold in schools. Investigations by The NewsHawks show that some corrupt police officers have been working in cahoots with drug peddlers, providing them protection during raids. Most of those arrested are often released without facing justice.
This has precipitated the problem. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has finally come to the party in the fight against the drug abuse scourge, setting up an inter-ministerial taskforce to deal with substance abuse.
The government this week announced that it had set up an inter-ministerial taskforce to curb drug abuse. While cabinet on Tuesday boasted of arresting 200 drug peddlers, hundreds more are still roaming the streets, terrorising families of drug users and flooding the market with dangerous narcotics.
It is, however, a welcome move that government has finally heard the cry of mothers suffering the effects of drug abuse by setting up the taskforce. Also welcome are the government’s moves to push for the review of the national National Policy on Drug and Substance abuse and amendment of the Dangerous Drugs Act, which is up to date with the current illicit substances being abused in the country to stiffen the penalties.
Listing and criminalising dangerous drugs like crystal meth would act as a deterrent to both users and peddlers. Although the government’s latest move fails to address the root causes of drug abuse in the country, it is a step in the direction. “Government has written a blueprint; we are yet to see if this will be implemented.
Sometimes blueprints gather dust, and nothing is done. So, we need all hospitals that must take mental patients to have capacity. Government must build rehabilitation facilities as a matter of urgency,” Madamombe said.
However, the elephant in the room is unrelenting economic hardship. The new taskforce is bound to fail if economic fundamentals are not dealt with. With no prospects of employment due to unrelenting economic problems, youths in the townships have turned to drug abuse as a coping mechanism.
Zimbabwe has nearly 90% formal unemployment and youths constitute the bulk of the jobless. Years of bad governance, successive droughts and, more recently, the outbreak of Covid-19 have worsened the economic situation, resulting in massive job cuts.
Drug abuse has been blamed largely on idleness and lack of economic opportunities for youths in urban areas. While Mnangagwa’s move is commendable, the government needs to revive an economy destroyed by corruption and bad governance.