By Byron Mutingwende
Chengetai Majoni (35) was identified by his old teenage friend on the streets of Johannesburg, heavily sick and addicted to drugs. Back home in Bikita, his parents and relatives had assumed that he had died a long time ago since they had never heard from him since 1997 when he ran away from home.
“Majoni is a drug addict who was surviving on pick-pocketing on the streets of Johannesburg and on doing menial jobs ever since he was 15 years old in 1997. One day, luck ran out on him in September 2015 after a certain motorist he had tried to rob shot at him in the leg. He got crippled in the right leg and was grounded for more than a year since he began to use a crutch for walking,” said his friend, only identified as Menard.
Homeless and unemployed as he was, Majoni took to begging at the popular Johannesburg malls. According to him, he was not guaranteed of a decent meal and would sleep in bridges or alleys, covered in rags or cardboard pieces.
“My only refuge was sniffing glue or smoking marijuana. At times, I would be given free illicit beer by other street dwellers. After taking the drugs, I would sleep for hours on end, in many instances oblivious of my dire situation,” Majoni said.
Majoni revealed that he was lured into love by his sister-in-law (brother’s wife) – a war veteran and beneficiary of the $50000 government gratuities in 1997 as compensation for her contribution during the war against colonialism.
“My brother had died in 1995 and my sister-in-law was the one who took care of me. In 1997, I would accompany her to Masvingo town to withdraw money. She spoilt me with anything I wanted. Later, she proposed love to me and I accepted since she said she would make me the head of the family and her husband in line with our traditional custom of inheritance.
“Unfortunately, she later tested positive to HIV. Out of fear of shame when my relatives realised that I was in love with her, I stole a huge sum of money and escaped to South Africa. I cut all communication with my friends and relatives. I was only 15 years old then and at first, I would survive on the money that I had before I finally succumbed to drug abuse,” Majoni said.
Life took a nasty turn when his health deteriorated and was taken to a hospital in Johannesburg where he received free treatment since he was known to be a pauper. When Menard asked him who he was one day, Majoni showed him his identification particulars and immediately he recognised him as his old friend. Through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Menard finally got in touch with one of Majoni’s brothers who is based in Harare and told him about his younger brother’s predicament. The brother immediately arranged for Majoni’s transportation back to Bikita.
His family was very supportive. He was forgiven of all the past mistakes, re-integrated into society and made to join the Zion Christian Church. Through Bible teachings, counselling and guidance, Majoni finally quit drugs and is now a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
On 26 June this year, the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, thousands of people took part in events in more than 130 cities across more than 70 countries – as part of the Support Don’t Punish campaign’s ‘Global Day of Action’.
In Harare, the Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network (ZCLDN) held a similar event at the Town House where hundreds of people attended.
Senator Monica Mutsvangwa, the Vice Chairperson of the SADC Parliamentary Forum was the guest speaker. Also present were the Deputy Director in the ministry of Health and Child Care, Dorcas Sithole, Harare City Health medical officer, Dr. Kudzai Masunda, pastors Ediwn Joram and Lawrence Berejena and ministry of education officials.
“By organising the event, Zimbabwe Civil Liberties and Drug Network is joining partners from all continents in proclaiming that the harms being caused by the war on drugs can no longer be ignored. It is time to leave behind harmful politics, ideology and prejudice and to prioritise health and human rights over incarceration and futile efforts to achieve a ‘drug-free world’. It is time to support, and not punish people who use drugs and other non-violent drug offenders,” said Wilson Box, ZCLDN Executive Director.
The Global Day of Action took place on 26th June, as this is also the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking – a day when governments typically celebrate their record of drug arrests and seizures.
In the past, some governments have even commemorated this day by holding public executions or beatings of drug offenders. Yet, by the United Nations’ own admission, the ‘war on drugs’ has failed to reduce drug use and has led to serious negative consequences – such as overdose deaths, HIV and hepatitis C infections among people who use drugs, prison over-crowding, severe human rights violations, and an exacerbation of stigma, marginalisation, violence and corruption.
‘This is the fifth Global Day of Action, and the biggest ever global show of force in support for drug policy reform. It demonstrates the growing recognition around the world that a repressive approach towards drugs has failed. It is a waste of public money, and it is doing more harm than good, as can be seen today in countries like Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Cambodia, Brazil and others. We need drug policies that are meaningfully grounded in human rights, and that aim to address the health and social vulnerabilities faced by people who use drugs instead of exacerbating them’, said Ann Fordham, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) – a global network of NGOs which oversees the campaign.
The “Support Don’t Punish” is a global campaign calling for changes to existing drug laws, for the decriminalisation of low-level, non-violent drug offences, and for investments in effective and cost-effective harm reduction responses for people who use drugs. The campaign was launched in 2013, and has grown year-on-year.