Mail & Guardian - Niren Tolsi
"You saw Tina*? She got fucked up here this morning: Candice* banged [hit] her and left her. You saw her?" asks Karen*, a teen prostitute, as her friend Denise* approaches.
Even at midday on a Wednesday the space on the kerb of Silverglen Drive near the Sol Namara Hotel in Chatsworth appears to be at a premium. And it's easy to see why: cars pass frequently, male drivers dominate, craning their necks, looking for that flicker of recognition that says: "I will have sex with you in exchange for money."
Minutes earlier Karen's friend Candice -- who looks no older than 15 -- hopped into a vehicle, which had stopped without a hoot or a flicker of the headlights. Both girls had recognised the driver.
Karen is petite, her pretty features marred by a missing front tooth lost to a john's violence. She says she is 20 and weighs "about 30kg. With all the sugars I'm smoking, I don't get an appetite," she says. She looks no older than 17.
"I charge R50 for a blow [oral sex], a hundred for a full house [penetration]. I've been here on the streets for the past two months because I have to smoke sugars," says Karen. Sugars are an addictive mix of residual cocaine and heroin cut with anything from household detergent to rat poison.
Karen starts work every day at about 10.30am, after a hit of sugars. She estimates she needs to get into "six or seven" cars to sate the R200 to R300-a-day habit, which she has developed in the past two years. Sugars retail at R10 to R30 for a "loop", which makes about four to five hits. Of the six girls who claim this section of Silverglen Drive as their soliciting territory, all are there to feed their habits, Karen says.
Activists involved in the drug war in the south Durban township of Chatsworth say the rise in the abuse of drugs such as rock and sugars has led to an increase in antisocial behaviour among the youth there.
Petty theft has increased, with junkies stealing from their own homes, pilfering from the jobs they inevitably lose and engaging in random muggings and house break-ins.
Earlier this year two addicts, 19-year-old Natrish Pearlal and her former boyfriend, Pranesh Surjoo (21), pleaded guilty in the Durban High Court to the murder of Bhanmathi Somaru.
They beat the 57-year-old grandmother over the head with a piece of firewood before strangling her to death. Both claimed they were driven to the murder by an insatiable craving to feed their sugars addiction, which they did by cleaning out Somaru's home and pawning whatever they could.
"Young girls are selling themselves for drugs," says Clive Pillay, programme coordinator at the Chatsworth Youth Centre, the hub of the anti-drugs campaign where counselling and treatment is available for those who want to kick addiction.
"You will see them outside the Chatsworth [Shopping] Centre, at Gandhi Park [across the road from the local police station] and even near the youth centre. Others get picked up by their 'sugars-daddy' straight after school, while some sell their bodies to dealers in exchange for drugs," he says.
"They're all Indian men, in their thirties, forties, fifties. Sometimes I get young men, but mainly they're older and married," says Karen.
"They'll take us down to the park [Silverglen Nature Reserve] or to this [sugars] den in Unit Three," she says. Both Karen and Denise say they always ensure customers use a condom. But both avoid answering whether they are as insistent on condom use when the "roster" (junkie slang for sugars withdrawal) sets in and customers offer to pay more for sex without a condom.
Drug addiction among Chatsworth's youth might be fuelling a rise in HIV infections among its general populace.
Sources close to RK Khan state hospital say there has been a startling increase in the HIV/Aids prevalence rate among teens admitted to the institution in the past year.
The Mail & Guardian was unable to confirm this at the time of going to press, but HIV prevalence rates among women in Chatsworth released last year by the Medical Research Council make for scary reading. In the suburbs of Croftdene, Westcliffe and Silverglen there was a 48% prevalence rate recorded. In Crossmoor the rate was 47% and in Welbedacht 40%, while the more affluent areas of Arena Park and Montford showed a 19% prevalence rate and Woodhurst/ Kharawastan had an 11% prevalence rate among women residents.
And, says Sam Pillay of the Anti-Drug Forum, dealers appear to be targeting younger children: "Dealers are always looking for profits and if you get them young you're increasing your profits. I know of incidents where drugs have infiltrated schools, but the schools generally will not want to tarnish their reputations by going public."
Last Thursday seven grade seven learners at Simla Primary School in Shallcross, Chatsworth, including two girls, were admitted to hospital after taking Ecstasy during a school matinee concert. Two boys were repeat offenders: they were admitted to hospital in 2004 when they were 10 years old after ingesting a cocktail of drugs during school hours. Testing found traces of heroin, Ecstasy and amphetamines in their system.
The most recent South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use brief from June 2007 found that of the 921 patients treated at six treatment centres in KwaZulu-Natal in the last six months of 2006, 28% were under the age of 20. The report states that "admissions related to heroin abuse increased significantly (9%) due to the increase in the use of sugars".
Strini Nair, the chairperson of Simla Primary School's governing body, believes the problem needs to be tackled head-on: "We are being up-front about it. We want to be a beacon for other schools, teachers and even the department of education in how to handle the drugs problem. All the ¬children involved have been suspended, they have received counselling with their parents and we have increased our drug awareness campaign at the school."
Nair was scathing about the lack of response from the departments of education and social welfare to the much-publicised drugs meltdown at Simla Primary: "All the department of education asked for was a report. They should have been down here as soon as this broke to strategise with us."
The usual reaction to revelations of drug use among children is for everyone to point fingers; parents blame schools; the schools, overwhelmed by the lack of guidance teachers and heavy workloads, claim their job is to provide education only; and everyone accuses government of sitting back and doing nothing.
Pillay, who counselled both the Simla Primary School children and their parents this week, believes fragmented responses will not solve the problem: "From my interactions with these kids, it is obvious they are not being empowered. Children must be inspired to use their intellect and question everything, including the decisions they make and the peer pressure they face."
* Names have been changed