A journey from ‘high’

A journey from ‘high’

THABA BOSIU – AT nine Thabo smoked his first cigarette and had his first taste of a beer. He didn’t quit until he was 30.
By the time he turned 11 Thabo was hooked to dagga and glue. At 12 he was peddling dagga to fellow students.
By his mid-20s he was a drug dealer whose marriage was on the rocks. In his late 20s he up-scaled his drug business to cocaine, heroin and cat.
The cocaine habit that started when he was in high school was now a full-blown addiction wreaking havoc in his life. Drugs had given him money but stolen his life.

“I was always high on my own drugs,” he recalls.
The police were literally sniffing on his heels as his drug dealing reputation spread.
“It was only a matter of time before they caught me red-handed.”
At 30 Thabo was estranged from his mother and his wife was threatening to leave him.
Then in January this year things fell apart. His long-suffering wife took their only child and left. He had brutally assaulted her after she asked why he had not been home for days.

Thabo says he was high when he attacked his wife and he regrets his actions.
“That is when I realised I had to change my life or I will either die or rot in prison.”
Eight months later Thabo is a recovering addict at Blue Cross, a rehabilitation centre in Thaba Bosiu, some 30km from the capital.
“I see the future clearly now. I am in a good space,” he says.

Blue Cross is the only rehabilitation centre in the country but only takes in 30 patients every three months.
The waiting list runs into hundreds, according to Malefetsane Matlali who manages the treatment department.
“Statistics show that there is a huge problem of substance abuse in the country. It’s a ticking time bomb,” Matlali says.
“The centre is overwhelmed. I suppose those who don’t make it to this place waste away in their homes.”

When Matlali joined the rehabilitation centre 26 years ago most of the patients were alcohol and smoking addicts. That trend has since changed dramatically in the last few years.
“Now we are dealing with dagga, heroin, cocaine and cat,” he says.
The demographics too have also changed. In the past they received applications from people between 24 and 40 but now they are dealing with people aged between 14 and 35.

That, Matlali explains, means that while the “use of hard-core drugs is increasing the users have also become younger”.
Matlali says their research shows that the main cause of drug abuse among the youth is peer pressure.
“These are young people growing up in villages where there is no other form of entertainment apart from doing drugs and drinking. There are no recreational facilities in the villages.”

He says among those slightly older they have noticed a strong link between drug use and economic hardships.
“They come to town to look for jobs but they find none. So they become disillusioned and resort to drugs and beer.”
But he notes that in recent times they have seen a new emerging cause.

“Some come from broken homes. They want to know their fathers but no one wants to give those answers. They use drugs and beer to suppress the emotional pain and anger.” Thabo believes he falls into this category.
He tells the sad story of a childhood in Roma with unnerving calmness. He has just come from his afternoon counselling session when he agrees to share his story on condition that his real name is not published.

He was raised by a grandmother and has never met his father. His mother was rarely around as she worked in Maseru.
“My grandmother died when I was seven and I had to raise myself. I don’t have a parental background.”
He dropped out of school in Standard Two and started hanging out with adults.
Soon a puff became a whole cigarette and a sip became a whole bottle.

Dagga and glue came a little later. Street gambling is what helped finance his new habit and when the days were bad he nicked anything he could get from neighbours. He was addicted to dagga and glue by the time he went back to school at 12.
“I no longer had the time to gamble or steal when I went back to school but I still wanted my dagga and glue. So I started selling dagga.”

The dagga market at school was huge. He says his biggest clients were boys and girls from rich families who wanted to get high but lacked the ‘street smarts’ to get the drugs.
Thabo knew the streets because it is where he had lived since his grandmother died.

It is some of those students who encouraged him to sell other drugs like cocaine and heroin. “It is them who would sometimes loan me some money to buy my stock.”
As the business expanded Thabo started selling cocaine to university students at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) in Roma.
“I can tell you that as much as 40 percent of the students at the NUL use drugs at some point.”

He was now addicted to cocaine.
“It was necessary for me to use some of the drugs that I was selling because the suppliers might cheat me. I had to be sure that I was selling the real stuff.”

Thabo says with time he realised that “the real money was in cocaine”.
“There were just too many dealers in dagga. Cocaine is a high-end drug because only those with money use it.”
A gram of cocaine, he says, cost M300 while a “ball” of dagga cost as little as M30.
“Beside, dagga is almost readily available in the country.”

Soon Thabo was dealing in other drugs like cat and ecstasy.
He took his operations to Maseru when he came to study marketing at Lerotholi Polytechnic College.
“By that time I was always out of the house. I never got to spend time with my wife and daughter. Being a drug dealer means you have to be always away from the family.”

As he made more money his drug use spiralled.
He recalls how he would make M1500 per day and then spend half of it on his own cocaine. “On some nights I would use as much as M1000 just to get high.”

His market, he says, now included prominent people in power and those who have good jobs.
“You won’t believe the calibre of people who used to call me to deliver drugs to their homes. They get high behind closed doors.”
Thabo tried to quit drugs when his wife left in January this year.

“I thought I could just quit taking the drugs but keep selling because I needed the money to survive. But things became worse because I was now taking even more drugs as I was depressed after losing my wife.”
His business started collapsing as he used much of the profit to feed his habit.
“I realised I was now taking more drugs than I was selling.”

The police too were now catching up with him.
“They had arrested me a lot and interrogated me a lot of times but never had anything they could use in court.”
One day some police officers decided that if they could not catch him red-handed they would beat a confession out of him.

Thabo didn’t confess but says he immediately stopped selling and using drugs. A friend later told him about Blue Cross and he enrolled for a three month programme.
When thepost spoke to him in September Thabo had been at the rehabilitation for three weeks.
Matlali says most of the patients come to the rehabilitation centre broken and hopeless. The first few weeks are the most difficult as the patients are in denial and struggling to cope with withdrawal symptoms.

“You are dealing with people who are not used to being sober. Some have not bathed or eaten in days because they are always high,” Matlali explains.
The fees for almost all the patients are heavily subsidised by the government.
Each however pays M650 to be enrolled but there is a special arrangement for those who cannot afford to pay.
Foreigners pay M3000. Matlali says it is the subsidy that has kept the centre open.

“But more importantly, it is what has ensured that people continue to get help. Without government support it would cost as much as M15 000.
A five-week programme at a similar centre in South Africa costs M10 000.”
Thabo says there was a time when all that mattered was money and his drugs.
Being in rehab has given me time to introspect, he says.

He says he now appreciates how his actions hurt his wife and child.
“Part of my plan is to rebuild my relationship with my wife but I also feel helpless because I hurt her a lot.”
He also wants to reach out to his brother, with whom he used to fight when he was drunk.

“I also want to repair my relationship with my mother. They called to tell her that I had been admitted here.”
After several sessions Thabo is also beginning to take responsibility for his actions. For instance he regrets selling drugs to teenagers.
“It used to be about money. It was a simple business decision and I should have known better.”
Interactions with other patients have also helped change his perspective about life.

Thabo now spends his time encouraging fellow patients to stay focused on their treatment.
He says to avoid relapse he will change his environment, cut off bad friends and seek what he calls “spiritual help”.

l The story is part of Lesotho’s Drug Scourge series thepost will publish over the next few months.

Shakeman Mugari &
Rose Moremoholo

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