Durban - Most young adults look forward to weekends to socialise, go clubbing and have a few drinks. However, a growing number also turn to drugs, and in the case of the more affluent, the recreational drug of choice is cocaine.
Anti-drug groups are concerned at the casualness with which youngsters are indulging in their use of the drug.
A young cocaine user, now drug-free, divulges the culture of complacency today: “Coke has lost its edge. Many people don’t consider it to be a hard drug any more.,” said Jason (not his real name). “For many it’s a weekend accessory, as it was for me.”
Senior information officer Claire Savage, of the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) said: ”The idea that casual use is ‘only social’ may well be considered a form of denial.”
Doctor Prakash Naidoo of the Durban branch of Assisted Recovery Centres of Africa (Arca), said today’s young professionals do not view cocaine as a taboo drug and, together with alcohol, use it increasingly more casually.
“Recreationally, cocaine is simply used to sober them up. They drink and then they use, every 20 minutes or so. But before they know it, users are on a path to addiction as their quantities each time get larger and larger.”.
Naidoo said cocaine dens operated in Durban’s CBD, where people bought, sold and used cocaine openly without fear.
Driving to clean up communities such as Chatsworth and Phoenix, is founding director of the Anti Drug Forum Sam Pillay. Agreeing with Jason, Pillay said recreational cocaine use began with wealthy young men who were bored. “These guys go to work during the week but as soon as Friday comes, they head to their dealers’ homes,” said Pillay.
Drug users are often stereotyped as “low lifes”, demoralised, unsuccessful or depressed people unhappy with their lives. Jason, however, claims it’s a drug for the elite – he used to spend R350 on one gram of cocaine. “One gram is one bag and an average night for me was two bags. The most I got up to was five bags in one night. I am a financial manager of a large organisation and the people I used to take it with were in this class too.“
Warrant Officer Dean Pillay of the Durban Flying Squad Narcotics Task Team said: “Cocaine is a rich man’s drug. You definitely won’t find somebody working in a shoe factory buying cocaine. Users can spend up to R5 000 a weekend on it.”
Dean Pillay tells of how cocaine trickles down, from when it is imported, to the dealer.
“Most of Durban’s cocaine comes from Nigeria. It comes in as pure cocaine, at R10 000 a gram. Then it’s mixed with babies’ teething powder. The pure cocaine is called ‘uncut’, and the diluted variety ‘cut’. It is mostly cut cocaine that is sold. Pure cocaine is for the elite. The teething powder is used to increase quantity and also to slightly lower the price so that more of it can be sold.”
The founder of the crisis team, Carol van Tonder, which covers Durban North and uMhlanga, also said cocaine was used by the wealthy and young professionals.
Dean Pillay said dealers came from areas like Durban North and uMhlanga and then filtered into areas such as Chatsworth.
Sam Pillay agreed but said Chatsworth and Phoenix dealers and users tended to use more rock cocaine because it was cheaper. “It’s as cheap as R60 a piece,” he said, adding that it was more popular here in these communities because they are populated with working class individuals.
Savage, however, does not believe wealth is a factor. “An addict will make a plan. The diluting of the drug makes a variety of combinations available at any price.”
Savage said the idea that cocaine was the preserve of the wealthy may be created by film and TV programmes that show wealthy people using cocaine with no obvious consequences.
Savage said the number of young dependants in treatment had increased, according to the Medical Research Council.
In recent months, the SAPS and anti-drug groups have succeeded in exposing the prevalent sale and use of cocaine in Durban. In November, Pietermaritzburg hailed a 73-person arrest which saw drugs worth R40 000, mainly cocaine, seized. Just a month before, the Hawks claimed one of the biggest drug raids to date: 95kg of cocaine was found in a container from Argentina, in Durban Harbour worth a street value of R29 million.
On March 5, the Durban Flying Squad Narcotics Task Team stormed a Chatsworth home and found 900 pieces of rock cocaine with a street value of R25 000.
On March 20, the Chatsworth Cluster Task Team arrested a man in possession of heroin. On the same day, another man was arrested for possession of 20 pieces of rock cocaine, with an estimated street value of R2 000.
KZN Provincial Commissioner Lieutenant General Mmamonnye Ngobeni said: “Such operations will continue throughout the province to remove all illegal substances in our communities.”
Despite these efforts, Sam Pillay believes authorities are not winning the war against drugs. “Cocaine is readily and easily available at all times. When one dealer gets busted, another one will still be operating. Consumption of cocaine doesn’t simply stop just because a few dealers are taken down. If we want to eradicate drugs in our communities there need to be more outreach programmes that deal with the users and dealers on the ground,” said Sam Pillay.