Pubdate: Sun, 22 May 2016
Source: Times, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2016 AVUSA, Inc.
Authors: Dominic Mahlangu and Penwell Dlamini
Note: Sunday Times


IT'S Tuesday morning on Goud Street in central Johannesburg. Jomo's 
cohorts are injecting two shots of nyaope into his neck.

He can't sleep without a dose. "I have been through hell, my brother. 
This is the life that works for me."

Jomo, who will not reveal his surname, says he has been in the city 
for more than 15 years. He arrived in 2000 from Mpumalanga and has 
been hustling since.

"I once had a job at a bakery in Bree Street. When it closed down I 
tried to survive but I ended up on the streets.

"I had to survive. Drugs . . . drugs make me forget the pain and 
everything around me."

But why inject in the neck? He smiles. "Ayichithi skhathi. [It wastes 
no time]."

Jomo is one of the kings of this hood. He says it is from him that 
newcomers must secure the privilege of a space to sleep on this pavement.

Goud Street is a small, dark street in the city centre.

But instead of gold, needles are the main currency in this dystopian 
hell. Here, grime, filth and hopelessness are intertwined.

On Tuesday morning the street is a hive of activity. Men aged between 
16 and 30-something sit in groups enjoying the winter sun. They 
scream as they help each other to inject drugs. Using one syringe and 
a rubber band to find veins, they are oblivious to passing motorists 
and the pedestrians stumbling over them. Not even curious onlookers 
distract them from their ritual.

Young men from throughout the city sleep on the pavement without 
food, water or anything that could give them energy. All they do is 
inject themselves with the notorious nyaope - a concoction of 
cocaine, heroin and other drugs - while others find solace in the 
dagga they openly smoke.

A teenager who looks no older than 16 or 17 has just had two shots. 
He looks dazed but smiles as we talk to his friend who helped him shoot up.

The pair say they have no option but to take the drug. To them this 
is a better hell than life without it. "Aaah Malume ayikho into 
engingayenza. Ubaba wami does not care. Abangifuni, that's why ngila 
Malume. [Uncle, I don't have any options. My father does not care. 
They don't want me - that is why I am here, Uncle.]"

These boys get their daily fix for as little as R10 for a small packet.

A guy with bloodshot eyes walks across the street to join others who 
are sorting scrap to sell down the road.

Thabo, who comes from Mohlakeng, west of Johannesburg, says he has no 
choice but to hustle on the street.

"When my mother died, I had no one. Here we take care of each other."

He says he walks around the suburbs looking for scrap and plastic 
bottles to sell.

"But first we buy our rocks [nyaope] . . . it keeps me energised to 
work hard. I eat whatever I can get and I sometimes buy bread. We are 
a team here and we take care of each other."

As he walks away, his friends shout at him, demanding that he return 
a syringe that he took with him earlier in the morning.

A short distance from Commissioner Street, in a rundown building, 
more boys mix a concoction of anything that could possibly get them high.

Some of the addicts who are on antiretrovirals say they mix their 
medication with other drugs to create their own "super-drug".

As we walk towards a corner where the mixing takes place, we are 
confronted by unforgiving faces. The message is blunt: "You are not welcome."

The druglords who rule these streets have no reason to hide their 
trade. Not once during the days that we visit the area do we 
encounter a police officer or see a police car.

Next to a rundown building where a makeshift shop selling bread and 
vetkoek has been set up, a group of older boys mix pills and other 
drugs in a bottle. A teenage girl prepares syringes on the floor. Her 
young face is etched with the brutality of life on these streets.

This is the girl who moved Gauteng social development MEC Nandi 
Mayathula-Khoza to tears when she visited Goud Street a month ago.

"I'm lost for words. I can't even begin to fully comprehend what I 
saw. As a mother I was devastated," said Mayathula-Khoza this week.

"Those children no longer have a life. When I arrived there I really 
could not believe . . . Kids lined up like coffins. They were so 
many, just covering the whole block."

Mayathula-Khoza said what troubled her most was that no one cared - 
even when she walked around the area, accompanied by police.

"They just continued taking drugs, using syringes and lost in their own world."

The girl shrugs off our questions about her name and whether she 
needs any help. Surrounded by a group of boys she soon disappears 
into the crowd.

Mayathula-Khoza said this week that she had offered the girl help, 
but the girl had returned to her life on the streets.

The MEC said her department had placed about 62 addicts who agreed to 
go into a rehabilitation centre, but 22 had already left the programme.

Michelle Verwey, manager of Eden Recovery Centre in Johannesburg, 
said the number of young drug users increased every month.

"Streets become an easier option when there is no one there for you," 
said Verwey.

Ali, who runs a restaurant in Goud Street, said the area was hell. 
"No one is supposed to live like this and these kids are finished. No 
one cares any more. Police don't come here and when they do it is to 
collect a dead body.

"Young boys die on the pavements and life just continues."

J, who runs a car wash business just across the road from 
Commissioner Street, said he had security "24/7".

"You can't take chances. These boys take anything and everything. 
It's useless to report them or call the police. Look at them. They 
are finished," he said as he locked a gate to his business.

Shop owners and business people throughout the area tell similar 
stories. For most, security is their top priority.

Police spokesman Lungelo Dlamini denied claims that the police made 
no attempt to clamp down on drug peddling in the area.

But by nightfall on Wednesday Goud Street is crowded and everyone is 
in his corner or on his patch of pavement burning the rock and 
holding the syringe for yet another dose before facing a cold night 
of despair. Their only solace, a dangerous oblivion.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom