Lack of parental guidance triggering substance abuse
By Regis Nhumba
Zimbabwe is witnessing an unprecedented increase in substance abuse among its domestic population. Young women and girls are among the most vulnerable section of the population, as they are tempted to use drugs as an escape from life’s troubles.
The substances that are most commonly used in Zimbabwe include alcohol, cannabis (mbanje), heroin, glue and cough mixtures such as histalix and bronclear. Mbanje remains the most popular illicit drug because it is grown locally or smuggled in from neighbouring countries like Malawi and Mozambique.
Maxine Chinotimba (15) (name changed to protect the identity of the minor) says she started drinking alcohol and abusing drugs when she was 12 years old. She says it started when her parents died and she moved in with her aunt.
“At first I took drugs and alcohol to lift my spirit during parties or during time out with my friends. It seemed harmless but each time I returned home I would feel upset. I would have violent altercations with my aunt as I felt that she wanted to oppress me. If she asked me to do anything, I would take it as abuse and we would quarrel endlessly,” says Maxine.
Maxine says she was depressed by the environment at home and she started to bring some drugs such as mbanje and bronclear into her bedroom where she would take the substance any time she felt depressed.
“I became secretive. I would be angry if anyone entered my room. I felt that they were scrutinising me with the intention of finding my drugs and having me arrested. I was wary of everyone in the family. I felt that they were treating me like an outcast because my parents were not around,” says Maxine.
At the time when Maxine was going through this difficult time, she says she was staying with her paternal aunt and cousins following the passing away of her father. Her mother had relocated to South Africa for greener pastures.
“My mother was in South Africa but she rarely communicated. This was one of the things that was frustrating me. I was feeling lonely and had no one to talk to. I felt like I was living with strangers who I could not open up to,” says Maxine.
Maxine says her main source of drugs were some neighbourhood young men and she was introduced to them by her friends. She says each time her aunt gave her some money to spend at school, she would use it to buy drugs.
A few months after her induction into substance abuse, Maxine says she became hooked and would feel depressed without taking drugs. She says at school she no longer participated in anything. She says no one took any notice since the teachers were not closely monitoring students because of industrial action by the teachers.
“At home, there is a bushy patch of land. There are some paths that people use when they want to take some short cuts. This is the area where I would go to smoke. One day after smoking, I went home but was surprised to my two uncles. They looked like they were waiting for me. They must also have smelt the mbanje because instantly they started to scold me,” says Maxine.
Maxine says the situation deteriorated as she started to defend herself. She says her aunt saw that the situation was out of control and called some neighbours. She says she was manhandled and taken to the hospital
“I spent three weeks in hospital. There were scores of other young people in the wards who had similar conditions. I was given some medications and went through counselling. It was very difficult to stay in such conditions and it is my worst experience in life. If my parents were around, I do not think I would have gone through such an experience,” says Maxine.