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Series: Corrupt Officers In Zimbabwe Are Fuelling Drug Crisis

Collusion between the authorities and the very same drug kingpins they're supposed to be locking up has made Zimbabwe's mission to eradicate drug abuse difficult.

In this riveting series on the rise of crystal meth abuse in Zimbabwe, AWP Magazine has dug into the country’s fight against substances.

The issue of crystal meth or mutoriro, as it is widely known on the streets of the southern African nation, is just the tip of the iceberg among a myriad of challenges facing the country.

From a president dubbed the “crocodile” or the “dictator” depending on who you ask, thousands of unemployed citizens on the brink of depression to the police corruption in the country.

It’s clear Zimbabwe has a number of issues to sift through.

Drugs, however, were never a major talking point just a decade ago but as borders become porous and the economy continues to sink into the mire, social ills like drug abuse have become more evident.

Coupled with the proliferation of drug Lords, buoyed by a steady supply of contraband, Zimbabwe has become a ready market for dangerous substances such as crystal meth and cocain.

While data in the region is unreliable, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report of 2013 estimated there are 28 million drug users in Africa as a whole.

The report had found that in Zimbabwe the substances that were most commonly used included alcohol, cannabis, heroin, glue and cough mixtures such as histalix and bron clear.

But that picture has since changed - particularly during the country's Coronavirus lockdown - when crystal meth became the 'go to' drug for youth.

The numbers have climbed and just last month the government's cabinet recently heard that 200 drug peddlers had been arrested.

“Cabinet noted with satisfaction the swift response by the country’s security forces which has resulted in the arrest of over 200 culprits involved in the trade of illicit substances and drug lords,” they said in a statement.

Young people in Zimbabwe have reportedly been identified as the most vulnerable group of the population - especially those from poor or unstable backgrounds who may be tempted to see drugs as an escape from life’s troubles.

In our investigations we've spoken to young people - on and off the record - who have gone from promising students with friends and lovers to ones who are on the brink of unemployment and mental health issues because of the economic situation in the country.

The stress has led some to turn to drugs.

There are a lot of figures for the rate of unemployment in Zimbabwe and it's difficult to know which to follow - some report that the rate is 95% while others say it is  5%. 

What's being done to combat the drug issue?

The authorities have now declared a war on dangerous narcotics and have even implemented a program called Operation Clean Up Zimbabwe to rid the streets of the drug menace.

The Government has also moved to appoint an inter-ministerial task force to deal with the drug problem, setting in motion plans to clean the streets.

But a different story is playing out on the streets of impoverished townships and it's going to take more than just a new set of MP's wooping in to create change.

Described as a “silent epidemic” crystal meth use is already claiming the future of the country’s youths. Most streets in the townships have become a safe space for dangerous narcotics.

From our investigations, it is also clear that the crystal meth racket is well managed so as to maximise profits.

Having spoken to those buying drugs and - reports also point to the involvement of the country’s police in drug peddling and the protection of kingpins.

The police reportedly receive bribes to offer protection and sometimes release drug peddlers, making the drug racket difficult to crack.

“I have been arrested several times, but they released me. I eventually became friends with them, they always pass by getting money for drinks. They tip me off whenever there is a police officer,” a drug peddler was quoted in local media earlier this year.

Out of the 200 drug peddlers arrested by the police since July, none have been prosecuted for possessing drugs that have caused untold suffering to families in the country.

In June a police officer was also arrested for receiving a bribe to protect a drug syndicate. The police Criminal Investigations Department (CID) has also warned rogue police elements involved in the drug racket that they would face the law.

“Arrests are ongoing and we appeal to the public to continue assisting us with information leading to the arrest of drug abusers and suppliers of these dangerous drugs,” Police spokesperson, Paul Nyathi said in a statement to AWP.

Collusion between the authorities, peddlers, and users has made it difficult to deal with endemic drug use.

Several attempts by some parents to expose the drug net have often been ignored by enforcements. This shows there is no political will from the authorities to deal with the problem.

The parents try to talk to the police in a bid to show authorities the drug houses their children go to but they claim that police officers seemed reluctant to investigate and take matters further.

This is an accusation that has come up in most interviews I did with affected parents.

This is very dodgy. In fact, it is scandalous that those who should be the custodians of the law could potentially be working in cahoots with criminals.

When will the culprits be brought to book?

The problem here is a money-thirsty police force, which has lost its morals to sup with the drug peddlers destroying youths across the country.

Government should therefore fish out such malcontents from the police force if its strategy to clean the streets is going to yield meaningful results.

While crystal meth cases have flooded the courts, the average jail sentence is 29 months. Zimbabwe requires robust legislation on drugs like crystal meth to lengthen jail time.

Also worrying in the current drug dilemma is the involvement of teen girls and in schools, which needs to be nipped in the bud.

Civic Organisations involved in the drug fight like Mubatirapamwe have reported drug abuse in Warren Park where scholars are skipping school to get a fix.

Girls as young as 14 have become hooked to the drug and in their quest to get a fix another problem arises.

These young girls have also become victims of sexual abuse. Daily sexual abuse from drug kingpins has gone under-reported as the young girls suffer in silence leaving them under the radar.

They also suffer physical abuse and from one of the interviews I conducted, a young girl told me that drug peddlers had threatened girls with death after they expressed that they no longer wanted to be involved in their acts.

While the government moves at a snail pace to clean the streets, a whole generation is getting destroyed.

If President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is serious about the drug fight as he is about other things, he - along with his crew - should build affordable rehabilitation and recreational facilities for the addicts.

Along with ensuring there are enough workers in the facilities.

It is saddening that Zimbabwe does not have a public rehabilitation facility, 41 years after independence while the country has just 17 psychiatrists to serve a population of over 15 million - according to the latest figures.

The lack of seriousness in building infrastructure to support drug users is appalling. The existing private facilities are beyond the reach of many poor communities and this means most are condemned to a life of addiction.

The economic situation in the country means funding is sparse but some citizens have taken matters into their own hands and formed organisations to help young people get on the mend.

Thanks to non-profit organisations, Mubatirapamwe, who are fighting to get youths off the streets, there is hope.