After helping an elderly woman load her bags into a mini-bus taxi at a busy intersection in Soweto, a scrawny and strung-out young man is rewarded with a few coins for his efforts.
High on “nyaope”, a street drug whose main ingredient is heroin, he is determined to make R30 within the next two hours before withdrawal symptoms start to creep in.
“It has been 11 years straight up, just smoking non-stop,” he told reporters, as he drew on a cigarette (tobacco) with his trembling hands.
“The thing that made me start smoking nyaope was stress, I had too much stress in my life. So I ended up relying on nyaope to calm me down,” said the frail and distant-eyed 28-year-old.
Heroin has been wreaking havoc in South Africa’s cities and rural areas since the early 2000s, according to a recent report by ENACT, an EU-funded project against cross-border organised crime.
Highly addictive, the nyaope cocktail is made of heroin cut with methamphetamine, codeine, and other substances reputedly ranging from anti-retroviral drugs to even powder from flat-screen televisions.
Smoked in a rolled joint laced with marijuana, or else liquidised and injected, it often leaves users with zombie-like sleepiness.
“That is why you find guys at street corners always sleeping. From the moment when you get the fix, you forget all the problems,” said the nyaope user in Soweto, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
The drug is known as “unga” in the Western Cape, “spices” or “whoonga” in Kwa-Zulu Natal province, and “nyaope” in Gauteng, the province that is home to both Johannesburg and Pretoria.
‘Underpinning criminal economy’ –
The ENACT report — “Hiding in Plain Sight: Heroin’s Stealthy Takeover of South Africa” — estimates there are more than 100,000 regular heroin users in South Africa and a trafficking market generating about R3.6 billion in annual revenue.
“Heroin is a key commodity underpinning the criminal economy in South Africa and has facilitated the expansion of the criminal economy,” report author Simone Haysom said.
“The drug trade has had the most destructive effect in poor communities,” she added.
Heroin moves from Afghanistan, which is the world’s top grower of the poppy from which heroin is produced, across the Indian Ocean to east Africa, down through southern Africa and then inland for distribution.
“For 50 metres (yards) around us here, you can buy any drug. It’s a known fact,” Robert Michel, the frustrated director at the non-profit Outreach Foundation, told reporters at their offices in a churchyard in Johannesburg’s Hillbrow district.
Shaun Shelly, founder of the SA Drug Policy Week awareness programme, agreed, saying “as a total stranger you could probably get heroin there in 15 minutes on the street.”
In Hillbrow, one of the most notorious crime-ridden neighbourhoods in downtown Johannesburg, heroin peddling is mostly done by gangs, organised crime syndicates, and corrupt police.
“The worst part of it is that the police is not really doing anything. In many cases, what we hear is that the police and the drug dealers are working hand in hand,” Michel said.
Child addicts –
The scourge has reached many children around age 15, and even some as young as nine, according to Hillbrow social worker Sizwe Bottoman.
“Others have stopped at school as it affects their brain so badly to an extent that they don’t concentrate,” she said.
Last month, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed that a “national drug master plan” would reduce demand, cut off supply and “ultimately free our young people from the harm that they cause.”
He said he was alarmed that “the average age of a drug user is getting younger and younger.”
“Drugs such as nyaope… are fuelling violence, crime, suicide, and risky sexual behaviour,” the president said.
South Africa’s drug problem is also exacerbated by poor social services and its youth unemployment rate of over 50 per cent.
Having previously beaten addiction to crystal methamphetamine and the drug Mandrax, Cape Townian Ashley Abrahams, 38, said he regrets the day he started using heroin 10 years ago.
“It’s not easy to stay clean. You have to be busy, you have to get work,” the homeless man told reporters as he whipped out the teaspoon and lighter he uses to get high.
“Somebody who is on drugs, goes into rehab, comes back onto the streets, and has no prospect of finding a job — and within days gets back into using drugs,” the Outreach Foundation’s Michel said.
“It’s a terrible cycle to break out of.”
Millions of fans thrilled with Cardi B’s Africa tour
It was all buzzing in Lagos and Accra during the weekend as Cardi B visited.
Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar, popularly known as Cardi B was on a 2-nation African tour from Friday 5 December to Sunday 8 December. She performed in Nigeria on Saturday and in Ghana on Sunday.
There is no doubt the Grammy-Award winning rapper enjoyed every bit of her time in the 2 West African countries. She kept millions of fans all over the world thrilled with her energetic activities which she regularly updated via her social media posts.
In Nigeria, the 27-year-old’s performance went down on Saturday night at the Livespot Festival, held at the Eko Atlantic City, Lagos.
Performing alongside Cardi B at the festival was Burna Boy, Tiwa Savage, Teni, Patoranking, Joe Boy, Niniola and a host of other Nigerian artistes.
The beautiful rapper dressed in Nigeria’s national colours from hair to toe, to deliver an electrifying performance to the delight of her teeming Nigerian fans.
She performed some of her hit songs like ‘I like It That’, ‘Girls Like You’, ‘Bodak Yellow’, ‘Money’ among others.
The Chief Creative Director of Livespot36 – the organizers of the festival, Dare Art Alade, while speaking at the largely-attended festival said:
“We know how much love the fans have for Cardi B and this was one of the reasons we chose to give fans a special experience to see the queen of hip-hop live in Lagos. However, we also are aware of the massive appeal of some of our Nigerian music acts. The show will definitely have been incomplete without these music stars, and this is why we all had a great time at Live Spot Festival”.
Cardi B who was quickly nicknamed Chioma B in Nigeria did not just come to Nigeria to perform and leave with her paycheck. She showed massive love for the country and her beautiful people. She visited motherless babies’ home with several gifts.
She also had a swell time clubbing in some of the famous clubs in Lagos. At one of the clubs, she reportedly splashed a whooping 3 million naira.
Nigerians do not waste time in returning any love shown to them. The comely rapper genuinely showed her love for Africa and this easily gained her endearment from millions.
Cardi B left Nigeria on Sunday to Ghana where she was received with equal love and energy.
However, some Ghanian celebrities had earlier complained that they were snubbed by Cardi B when they came to her hotel to have a ‘Meet & Greet’ with her and she did not show up but she later cleared the air on what happened, saying she was not informed about the meeting and immediately promised to meet the guest celebrities.
She is expected to return to the United States on Monday.
Zozibini Tunzi sends message to South Africans after being crowned Miss Universe
The show which lasted 3 hours was hosted by Steve Harvey and former beauty queen and actress, Vanessa Lachey
Reigning Miss South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi has been crowned Miss Universe 2019. The Beauty queen’s crowning as the 68th Miss Universe took place on Sunday, 8 December 2019 at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
The show which lasted 3 hours was hosted by the famous comedian, Steve Harvey alongside former beauty queen and actress, Vanessa Lachey.
Ally Brooke from Fifth Harmony musical group thrilled the audience with her wonderful performances.
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Beautiful Tunzi was crowned by departing Miss Universe 2018, Catriona Gray as pageantry tradition demands. Tunzi is now the third South African to have been crowned Miss Universe. Others were Margaret Gardiner and Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters who were crowned in 1978 and 2017 respectively.
Her crowning also launched the brand-new “Power of Unity” crown which is said to be worth about R73 million.
The newly-crowned queen has come out to thank South Africans for the support they gave her during the pageantry. While speaking after her victory, the 26-year who hails from Tsolo, Sidwadweni in East Cape said:
“Ah, I’m so ecstatic. I think everyone is still waking up by the way. They are going to wake up to a storm of news. I don’t think I have ever had as much support as I did coming into the Miss South Africa crown and so I think this will be something extra and very special for everyone back at home.”
South Africans are awake and have reacted brilliantly to the news of Zozibini Tunzi being crowned Miss Universe 2019 on Twitter. See what some have said:
While one Twitter user who goes by the handle @Loisabels18 refers to the fact that Zozibini Tunzi was crowned by the immediate past Miss Universe from the Philippines who received her own crown from a former South African Miss Universe, another user tweeted “…Nothing could ever beat natural African beauty.”
A people determined to tell their own stories
African storytelling in cinema is undergoing an evolution and Africans are spinning the wheels
It was Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian novelist, who once said:
Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.
This statement, made by the late Booker Prize winner during a 1994 interview in the Paris Review, stresses the importance of owning the narrative and places the onus on people of any race or culture to seize the initiative and tell their own stories; otherwise they would have strangers, who are not privy to the facts, churning out distorted narratives.
For many decades, Africans and indeed people of colour were faced with this problem: they watched in horror and dismay as the white-controlled film industry made movies that not only reinforced negative stereotypes, but also peddled falsehoods as fact and portrayed black people as savages that needed to be trained to act civilised.
Movies like 1965’s “Naked Prey” and the infamous “Birth of a Nation” (made in 1915) are a few examples of how people can manipulate perceptions of a race when they have the power and financial means to.
Even in recent history, there have been movies that have unwittingly advanced the white saviour complex. 2002’s “Tears of the Sun” (which starred Bruce Willis) tells the story of a U.S soldier who goes into Nigeria to save innocent children from rebel forces during a war. The film reeked of poor research, and deservedly, was panned by critics.
It would be fair to admit, though, that times have changed. The narratives are changing, and African stories are now being told in more ingenious ways. Djimon Hounsou and Leonardo Di Caprio lit up global screens in 2006’s “Blood Diamonds” (based on Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war), Gavin Hood earned critical acclaim for the 2005 movie adaptation of Athol Fugard’s novel “Tsotsi”, and Lupita Nyong’o shone brightly in 2013’s “12 Years A Slave”, a movie based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 slave memoir of the same time.
There is a lot more authenticity as well as nuance in the making of these films, and those involved now show that they care enough about telling these stories well.
It would be difficult not to acknowledge Abraham Attah’s portrayal of Agu in 2015’s “Beasts of No Nation” or Nyong’o’s portrayal of Harriet in 2016’s “Queen of Katwe”, the latter directed by Mira Nair and based on real-life conditions of one of the slums in Uganda’s capital city.
There are still debates on the kinds of stories being told, and how themes like slavery and racism keep being “glamorised” in film, but at least Africans are telling their stories now, and that is a major step forward.
There is also the small matter of who gets to interpret roles in these films: months ago a few Nigerian actors screamed blue murder when it was revealed that Nyong’o would be working on a picture adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah.
A lot of work still needs to be done in pushing African storytelling, but for now, progress should be acknowledged and celebrated.
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