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Former drug addict shares his story

Denzil Africa was a thief and drug addict for more than 10 years. BRENDAN MAGAAR African News Agency (ANA)

Denzil Africa was a thief and drug addict for more than 10 years. BRENDAN MAGAAR African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 25, 2022



Not enough noise is being made about substance abuse. These were the words of Denzil Africa, who had been a drug addict and a thief for more than 10 years of his life.

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The Delft resident, who runs a mobile shop from his house and runs empowering workshops, told the Weekend Argus ahead of World Drug Awareness Week on June 26 that he started with cigarettes, progressed to dagga and moved on to heavier stuff like methaqualone.

“I broke into houses, cars, stole from my mother and hung out with the wrong crowds. As I was on my way to steal a car, I got shot and the next moment I was in hospital. Not realising what happened, the nurse told me I was shot twice through my head.

“One bullet went right through my head and the second did not come out. However, during my second operation it was removed. One of the bullets also grazed my optical nerve, which caused my visual impairment,” he said.

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Africa then joined The League of Friends of the Blind (Lofob) before moving on to the Cape Town Society for the Blind (CTSB), where he learned computer skills and how to start up a business.

“I then met a guy at CTSB, who introduced me to an organisation, as I wanted to do more with my life. The organisation funded my studies, however, during my third year I dropped out and went back into drugs and breaking into people’s houses.

“Another guy and I broke into the wrong house as we got caught. They took us into the house, stripped us, tied our hands and feet and poured petrol on us.

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“They told us that they are going to burn us out. I was prepared to die. We waited for the owner before we drove to the beach, where we were dumped. I ran to the main road, saw the police and they took us to a hospital. Even after that happened I still went into drugs,” he said.

Africa said he stopped taking drugs as he hurt so many people close to him.

“The realisation of firstly understanding that I was a better person than what I was caught up in. I lost so many people around me and I could not handle it anymore. I had to get rid of the regret and guilt and that fact that I wanted to be a better person helped me stop,” he said.

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Africa said: “We need to do this (celebrate World Drug Awareness Week) continuously and not just have it one week in a year or every few months.

“Substance abuse is something that happens all the time. Every minute someone is throwing away their life. It is good that we are making this awareness but what happens after that? Organisations like Sanca need to have ongoing awareness and workshops. We need to visit schools on a regular basis and be in the face of the drug dealer.”

His message to the youth who are using drugs: “It is important to be your own person. We all have something to strive for in life. People have a lot to say about coloured communities in Cape Town but what are you going to do differently to make it a better place? Be true to yourself, it won’t be easy because sometimes you will be rejected.”

The South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) regional director, Brad Mears, said their most recent (April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022) report shows an increase of 36% in treatment from the previous year.

“There was an increase in admissions across all age groups, but the majority (61%) of the clients were youth (18-35 years), then 20% adults (36-60+) and then 19% of the clients were between 4-17 years of age.

“The statistics indicate that there was a 9% increase for the admissions of youth between 22 to 35 years (45%) who received treatment at Sanca compared to last year. It is interesting that the second highest group admitted accounted for 17% of admissions, were between 14 to 17 years of age with an increase of 5% from last year.

“This can be explained with the school being fully operational from last year, but even more concerning is what the reason could be for the increase for this age group and what impact lockdown and boredom had on their drug-using behaviours,” he said.

Sanca is dedicating June 20 to June 26 to tackle the scourge of drugs with their Kick The Habit campaign. The NGO, which celebrates 66 years, aims to raise awareness about the complexities of addiction and dependency. "This year's challenge is accompanied by our 'Design a Detox Shot' competition where you can stand a chance to win a prize. Sanca is encouraging all South Africans to take part and challenge one another throughout the week. Purchase a bandana from your local SANCA Site to show your support."

South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) project manager, Dr Busisiwe Twala, said they have seen an increase in adolescents and young adults (age 13-35) contacting their telephonic, SMS and online platforms regarding substance abuse.

“Between April 2021 and March 2022, we have had 89 992 youths contact us through our existing helplines, an increase of 107% from 2020,” she said.

Weekend Argus

Related Topics:

Cape TownDrugs