The drug whoonga has plagued South African communities for a minimum of a decade, but solely gained vital public consideration when it appeared extra visibly within the inner-city and surrounding suburbs of Durban, the most important metropolis within the nation’s KwaZulu-Natal province.
Also referred to as nyaope, whoonga is a avenue concoction of B-grade heroin, rat-poison (strychnine) and numerous different chemical elements. It’s mostly sprinkled right into a hand-rolled cigarette and is definitely accessible and bought extra cheaply than different avenue medicine. Withdrawal, often called “arosta”, is reported to trigger extreme abdomen ache, that solely eases by smoking once more, trapping customers in a vicious cycle.
Typically utilized by younger individuals, the drug has had a fancy and devastating influence on communities. But authorities, metropolis officers and non-governmental organisations have struggled to mix forces and react with the urgency and that means to the disaster. At instances their responses even seem at odds with one different.
In 2014 we started working in Durban’s KwaMashu, Umlazi and interior metropolis areas. As a group of teachers and storytellers, we wished to see if theatre might unlock extra humane and collaborative responses to whoonga. A few of the customers we met have been as younger as eight years previous and dwelling on the road with a extreme heroin dependancy.
Over two years we collaboratively developed a play referred to as Ulwembu (‘spider net’ in isiZulu). We’ve since carried out it to numerous affected communities and for policymakers, impacting lives, and the manufacturing is now set to journey internationally.
Listening to the neighborhood
The Massive Brotherhood, a KwaMashu-based theatre firm had observed the absence of fathers and good male function fashions of their neighborhood and in response created public storytelling processes, informed by males. Our analysis would verify that just about each whoonga consumer we met had an absent father.
In 2015 the group started collaborating with award-winning South African playwright Neil Coppen, Durban actress and ethnographer Mpume Mthombeni and myself, an academic sociologist (with mentorship from teachers at Durban’s City Futures Centre).
The aim was to diversify the pathways obtainable to customers to both handle the danger related to whoonga use or handle their means out of dependancy.
Within the analysis course of we might see that the pathologising of whoonga customers was a major downside. We started to have a look at what was absent: significant care and empathy for customers. As an alternative of stigmatising and criminalising them, we wished to deal with dependancy as a psychological well being concern. It was additionally clear that there was a necessity to determine extra dynamic and empathetic types of partnership between authorities and civil society teams.
So we gathered oral histories of numerous residents – whoonga customers, police, mother and father, well being care employees, neighborhood security teams, social employees, religion leaders, teachers and others. We remodeled these into an immersive theatrical manufacturing which ended up doubling as a coverage transient.
Concerning the play
The play tells the story of six individuals caught within the whoonga net. They embrace Bongani, a drug seller; Portia, a police lieutenant on the entrance line of the combat in opposition to the scourge; her son Sipho; his buddy Andile; and Emmanuel, a Mozambique-born shopkeeper.
The play traces Sipho’s descent from gifted scholar and aspirant musician to drug consumer. It additionally tells the story of an bold policewoman and mom whose son will get caught within the whoonga lure. Portia’s interior battle mirrors what we witnessed in our analysis throughout town. Ulwembu explores the consequences of dependancy not solely on those that endure from it however on communities, households and the police. It gives perception into the positions of these making an attempt to regulate the commerce, those that profit from it, and people harmed by it – and the way they’re all a part of a fancy social net.
To create Ulwembu we developed an interdisciplinary theatre methodology which we’ve got named Empatheatre. Our hope was to create public storytelling encounters that kind amphitheatres of empathy inside which we might share real-life tales with the intention to encourage and develop a better kindness in areas of battle or injustice.
Within the printed script, Ulwembu particularly shares the numerous tales of younger whoonga customers in Durban and explores the function police and authorities companies play within the lives of weak youth within the metropolis.
The police have been clearly a gaggle we wished to work with. An empathetic method challenged current policing responses and coverage directives. Avenue stage drug dependancy has, in South Africa, tended to concentrate on crackdowns, dispersal and heavy-handed enforcement. Impressed by Paulo Frere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed we realised we would have liked to additionally think about the pedagogy – or educating – of the oppressors.
And so Portia, a policewoman who desperately seeks steadiness between justice, mercy and empathy, centres the narrative. The character relies on testimonials gathered from law enforcement officials in addition to mother and father of drug customers, permitting us to look at two strands of analysis via the lens of a single character.
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The ‘oppressor’ dynamic of the police was detailed to us via interviews with customers, social employees and well being care employees. Even some law enforcement officials felt that arrest quotas and crackdowns trigger extra hurt than good and longed for another. Portia was our means of exhibiting how, in the case of dependancy, the oppressor – the police – can in a relative immediate be remodeled into the oppressed – a mom making an attempt to avoid wasting her son from dependancy. Nobody is immune.
Ulwembu speaks to the realities of why individuals start to make use of medicine within the first place. It doesn’t purpose to ‘scare’ younger individuals into avoiding medicine. The lifetime of a whoonga consumer is frightening sufficient. As an alternative it tells everybody’s a part of the drug story pretty, with out judgement. This was central to how we handled stereotyping and the harmful delusion machine that influences our perceptions of avenue stage customers.
The longer term
Since launching Ulwembu our group has turn out to be concerned in ongoing boards with numerous gamers within the metropolis, regulation makers and authorities ministers. Throughout our run on the Hillbrow Theatre in Johannesburg in 2017, we carried out to members of parliament and organisations instantly concerned in drug coverage. Afterwards, the director of the Hawks (the Directorate for Precedence Crime Investigation) expressed how highly effective the night had been. In the direction of the top of 2018, the manufacturing was carried out on the Drug Coverage Week convention in Cape City, with key native and worldwide policy-makers in its viewers.
Ulwembu has been invited to take part within the Drug Coverage Alliance Reform convention within the close to future (pandemic relying)— and so its worldwide journey begins.
We started this course of with the aim of responding to the complexities surrounding avenue stage drug dependancy in Durban, but discovered ourselves exploring and tending to a myriad of sociological, political, financial, cultural, psychological and religious realities, that in flip, modified us and the manufacturing.
The script of Ulwembu additionally incorporates the manufacturing’s analysis and outcomes and is on the market from Wits College Press.