‘Little powder’ destroying lives of users

By Lerato Sibanda Time of article published Aug 20, 2013

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Pretoria - He looks like another self-employed car guard with a loud whistle and animated hand gestures, trying to make a few rand on bustling Robert Sobukwe Street in Sunnyside.

But 27-year-old Sebenzile Ngobeni has been a nyaope addict for four years.

His dependence on the perilous street drug, made popular in the townships of Pretoria since 2007, is so serious that he suffers from a type of insomnia, said Ngobeni.

His friend, with a mathematical-sounding street name, Median One, says he often breaks into a cold sweat during the night.

“You feel how hot it is now sister, but I will have a very cold sweat at night,” Median One told me, dramatically.

Twenty-five-year-old Median One and another 19-year-old street friend, who calls himself Median Two, are Ngobeni’s smoking partners.

The young men are among a greater cohort of nyaope smokers in Sunnyside.

“A R1 000 is nothing, sister. You can give me R1 000 at 5h00, by 8h00 it is finished on nyaope and I would not even bought food,” said a stony-faced Median One.

Neither Ngobeni nor his smoking partners explained whether they were ever given as much cash as suggested.

Instead, they took turns inhaling a nyaope joint, and left the question hanging.

The smoking crew are well-acquainted with the dealing spots in Sunnyside: Esselen Street (now Robert Sobukwe), Celliers Street, and House 22 on Gerhard Moerdyk Street, all have nyaope peddlers stationed there.

The smokers told Pretoria News that the peddlers or “businessmen” had different selling prices, ranging from R20 to R30.

Nyaope costs a few rand less than heroin which has a going rate of R30, according to general manager at Sediba Hope Medical Centre which rehabilitates heroin and other drug users in the city centre, Vanessa Hechter.

Nelson, a vagrant and friend with the Sunnyside nyaope boys, arrived with a package of low-quality nyaope to show to Pretoria News. He had bought it from a “stubborn” dealer on Bourke Street.

The smokers complained that the nyaope had already been mixed with tobacco, instead of being separated into “the material” and sold as a package, as is often the case in Sunnyside.

The “material”, a code Nelson said nyaope smokers had adopted from Nigerian dealers, is made up of a Rizla (a blade of tobacco rolling paper), two parts tobacco and three parts nyaope, a fine white powder packed tightly in plastic.

Nelson said when the dealers drove around with the material, they hid it inside holes they had dug into a Sunlight soap bar, so that police dogs couldn’t sniff out the drugs.

Nelson, who hails from Letlhabile in North West, said he preferred to sleep on the street because at home they “do not understand me”.

Ngobeni, who is originally from Mankweng in Limpopo, also has family around Mamelodi, Soshanguve and Nelmapius but prefers to sleep in a community park in Sunnyside.

He refused to explain why he left his uncle’s house in Nelmapius, the last place he lived before he chose the streets.

“That’s my business, my sister,” said Ngobeni in Pretoria Sotho.

Ngobeni alleges that he originally came to Pretoria to look for a job.

Nyaope appeared in the Tshwane townships of Soshanguve before 2007, said Mthunzi Mhaga, spokesman for the Department of Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

It consists mainly of a mixture of heroin and dagga and various “extenders”, such as antiretroviral drugs, milk powder, rat poison, bicarbonate of soda and pool cleaner, Mhaga said.

“Powder ee ke yone e re yestsang deurmekaar” (This little powder is what is causing havoc in our lives), said Median One, with the white powder in his hand.

What the community says about nyaope problem:

The Pretoria News spoke to several residents of Sunnyside and the city centre to hear their opinion of the drugs ravaging these areas.

* “Most of the nyaope smokers from around here (Sunnyside) I have noticed, have HIV or tuberculosis. One of the guys came the other day because when he was injecting himself, the needle broke inside. We don’t really talk about the nyaope. We offer them health care, but we know they take it (the drug).” Nancy Matthysen, community outreach worker for PEN, Sunnyside.

* “We can assist with the first phase of rehabilitation, but we need more centres to help with the second phase of empowering drug users. In the past we used to work with the Tshwane Leadership Foundation, which was helpful, but one centre is not near enough,” said Emmanuel Tshilenga, senior pastor of the International Church of Pretoria, city centre.

* “The homeless need attention and love. If you check their background, most of them have been beaten like animals in their parents’ homes. What hurts us is when we hear some businessmen (in Sunnyside), who are hiding their names, are the ones providing them with the drug,” said the Reverend Doxa Kalenga, overseer of Young Winners Ministry, Sunnyside.

* “Islam encourages that we build some sort of structure, whether it’s an orphanage or working with people in our communities who are willing to help the homeless and destitute. I do believe we can work with the government to improve the city,” said Imam Noman Shaikh, Metro Mosque, city centre.

* “I know in Tembisa, 80 percent of taxi drivers and queue marshalls peddle nyaope. They are smokers themselves. Their complexions even change colour and become darkish yellow and they start to speak slow,” said nyaope activist Sello Rasebotsa.

* “When I used to sleep on the street I remember how people used to laugh at me. I tried looking for a job and couldn’t get one,” David, reformed addict and community outreach worker at PEN, Sunnyside.

*Drug can cause insomnia


Sebenzile Ngobeni told the Pretoria News he needed to get high on nyaope to fall asleep.

Peet Vermaak, a clinical neurophysiologist from the Pretoria Sleep Lab said: “Nyaope certainly has the potential to cause chronic insomnia as an overstimulated brain produces a lot of high-frequency beta activity.”

Dr Irshaad Ebrahim, of the Pretoria Sleep Centre, said that the ingredients of nyaope were primarily heroin and amphetamines.

“Both these drugs can disrupt sleep and addiction to them can cause damage to the part of the brain that regulates our sleep-wake cycle,” Ebrahim said.

It was probable nyaope was behind Ngobeni’s insomnia, he added.


Belinda Dreyer, spokeswoman for the South African National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in Pretoria, said all the organisation’s nyaope patients experienced extreme abdominal cramps and did not want to eat for the first five days.

“The first two to three days of rehabilitation are the most crucial, so we are careful to give them non-addictive medicine for the cramps.

“We are facing the challenge where most nyaope addicts have not developed their emotional side. You will find that the addict is 26, but because he started smoking when he was 13, he still thinks like a 13-year-old.”

Dreyer said that over the past two years, nyaope addicts had become the most-admitted patients at the clinic.

Pretoria News

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