Durban - While some people instinctively clutch their handbags or lock their car doors when passing Durban’s notorious “Whoonga Park”, an Umbilo woman slows down, desperately hoping to catch a glimpse of her son among the addicts.
Ncami Ndlovu has been searching for Howard, 21, since he disappeared last January. The former Glenwood High School pupil was a whoonga addict.
“We heard he was stabbed, tied to a mattress and burnt to death after getting into an argument,” Ndlovu said on Monday. “If that is the case, please, anyone with genuine information please tell us where his bones are. Please tell me, where did my son end up?”
The teary mother made the appeal to whoonga addicts and vagrants who attended eThekwini Municipality’s “Qalakabusha” launch in Albert Park on Monday.
The Qalakabusha initiative – which means “start anew” – aims to eliminate vagrancy, loitering and drug abuse in Albert Park and surrounding areas by the end of the year.
Mayor James Nxumalo said a multidisciplinary approach with various departments including Social Development, Health, Justice, the police, and NGOs, would be adopted to help addicts start their lives over.
After profiling the occupants of Whoonga Park, Nxumalo said the city found many of them were from Durban with only a small percentage from as far as Ulundi, Pietermaritzburg and Port Shepstone.
“Many of these young people had a problem at home and ran away. Some are from broken families, homes where there was domestic violence, were orphaned and had nowhere to go or simply did not respect their parents and the rules of their families, so they ended up here,” said Nxumalo.
Ndlovu does not know what drove her son to drop out of school and leave home for Whoonga Park.
Speaking to the Daily News after the event, she described him as a quiet, respectful and smart boy who never raised his voice, even when she reprimanded him. “He would just look down and say, ‘I hear you, ma’, but run off again.”
She last saw him when he returned home with a stab wound on December 30.
After taking him to hospital, Ndlovu prayed this would be the wake-up call that would set him straight. But, before he had finished his medication and had his bandages removed, he ran off.
Ndlovu heard about Howard dropping out of Grade 9 in 2010 from one of her other three sons, who also went to Glenwood. Howard would disappear from home for weeks. When he periodically returned, he sneaked home at night to avoid a confrontation. He started working as a taxi conductor. “I think that is where the trouble started, because none of his friends from school were involved in drugs,” she said.
Howard would leave home with new clothes, sometimes his brothers’, and come back in tattered ones. “I suspect he sold the clothes I bought to feed his habit,” said Ndlovu.
At her wits’ end, she took him to a rehabilitation facility. She went inside to make enquiries, but when she came back, he was gone.
“It hurt not knowing where he was, if he had eaten,” Ndlovu said. “His brother would go past there (the park) regularly to check on him and report back to us.”
But it has been more than a year since they have seen or heard from Howard. The family searched mortuaries, hospitals and police stations after hearing he was killed.
Ndlovu was told on Monday her son was buried in the park under a pile of rocks. “The person who told me this after my plea said there were many people buried there.”
She had opened a missing persons case and would get police involved in the search for her son’s body at the park.
At the time of his disappearance, the Ndlovus were arranging for Howard to go and live with relatives in Zimbabwe to get him away from whoonga.
“Whoonga addicts don’t know what they put their families through. My youngest (son) asks about him (Howard) all the time, I don’t know what to say,” Ndlovu said. “If he is dead, we want to at least bury him with dignity. Dead, he may be resting, but we never will. This is unbearable.”
‘Start anew’ initiative seen as a lifeline by some addicts
NOT wanting his future stubbed out by whoonga, Sabelo Mdladla of uMlazi went to rehab.
“Our parents are bearing the burden of our bad decisions and I didn’t want to put that on my kids as well,” he said.
The 31-year-old said he realised that whoonga would not fill the void of not having a relationship with his children. He is two weeks away from completing the programme and hopes to motivate others to get clean. “This is not a life. Life passes you by while you are busy smoking whoonga.”
Life, and death, has passed Nonhlanhla Mkhize by, as she languishes in Whoonga Park. While there, her sister and brother died and she found out long after. Her mother has fallen ill due to the stress caused by the life her daughter chose to live.
Mkhize, 28, initially ran away from home at age 14, too scared to face her mother after misusing money she was given to buy paraffin. “I met a group of girls and we started stealing to survive.”
She met a man at a club who introduced her to whoonga saying it was dagga. She was soon addicted and would do anything to get a hit.
She sells scrap metal and old clothes she finds in rubbish bins, and even her body.
When she is craving, she said her stomach goes into excruciating knots making bowel movement difficult. She has developed piles, which make it difficult for her to walk.
At the Qalakabusha event, she signed up for medical assistance and wants to be rehabilitated and go back home to take care of her mother.
“God help me, I want to change. I have lost too many friends,” she sobbed.
“The dealers here are brutal; we live with them because we are desperate for a smoke, but we fear them. I don’t want to die here.”