THE 22-year old Malawian-born Duncan Tsegula has seen a vicious cycle that includes crime, life in the streets of Pretoria, an addiction to heroin and a stint in prison.
Having left his home country aged 13, he stayed for three years in Kenya, two years in Zambia and another year in Rwanda.
When he finally reached South Africa, he never envisaged life will turn out for the worst, considering the vast opportunities compared to his homeland and the countries he had previously sought economic refuge in.
“I am a wanderer but I have settled in South Africa,” Tsegula (42) said in an interview.
He recalled how he got hooked to drugs.
“I was disappointed by a situation. Someone offered me a smoke but I had no idea what substance it was. That night, I managed to sleep well. The next morning I went back there for another peaceful sleep,” Tsegula said.
“This joint helped me forget my problems and depression. I thought I was smoking weed later to realise I was getting into heroin.”
His addiction would spiral until he lost his house, job, car and ultimately, contact with his daughter. Involvement in crime followed, with the Malawian denting his stay in South Africa with two criminal records.
The criminal stint would continue even behind bars.
He was among inmates that vandalised the Odi Correctional Centre in Mabopane in 2010.
“We burnt it down because of ill treatment and corrupt officials. Everything was not the way it was supposed to be. There was poor diet. Inmates were not accessing antiretrovirals. Everyone can make a mistake but constitutionally, we had rights to be treated as humans.”
“I lost 15 years of my life through prisons and life on the street. I have lost touch of my daughter, who is now aged 16. I only saw her when she was born. I have been trying to track her without success. I last heard she was in Cullinan. I’m using other channels not Khumbul’ ekhaya.”
When CAJ News Africa met him in Pretoria, Tsegula expressed an eagerness to clean up and reclaim his life.
He is one of recovering addicts benefitting from the City of Tshwane’s ground-breaking new approach to address the harmful use substances and their impact on communities.
The Community Oriented Substance Use Programme (COSUP) is set to become a model of best effective practice in the world, according to experts.
Launched in August 2016, is already showing its worth.
Eight sites, and additional six satellite sites in Mamelodi and Soshanguve, are operational across the City of Tshwane.
To date, 2 500 people, including foreign nationals, have been enrolled, with 450 on medication to assist them reduce their usage of nyaope use.
Tsegula is testament of hope for thousands of drugs addicts across the city.
“Heroin is hiding a lot of potential on the streets. Some of those people might look dirty but are lawyers, engineers and other professions, these people have families who have abandoned them because they don’t understand them,” Tsegula said.
Zambian-born Jacob Chanda (29) is also on the recovery path after years dabbling in drugs.
“Life just keeps getting better since I attended the COSUP programme. I am back at night school and helping others who need this help,” Chanda said.
He has also attended a life skills course at People Uplifment Programme (POPUP), an initiative offering fully-fledged skills training and development centre to ensure independence, restoration and true upliftment of individuals through market-related, cost-effective training.
“I am ready for the next phase of my life,” Chanda said.
Recognising that the current responses to drug use were not effective and desperate to find a way to reduce the impact of drugs on people and communities authorities in the capital city turned to the University of Pretoria, Department of Family Medicine, Professor Jannie Hugo, who immediately saw the need and opportunity to make a real difference. “For years we have tried the war on drugs thing and it has done nothing to reduce the levels of drugs use. Some would say it has actually increased some of the harms. Wed decided to look at the evidence and consults experts. We decided to do something that will make a difference, even if it’s controversial,” Hugo said.
COSUP engages people who use drugs, ideally before their use of the substances becomes a serious problem. COSUP offers a range of interventions that are non-confrontational, collaborative and based on the best available scientific knowledge appropriate for the local context.
“Instead of waiting for people to get sick and come to the clinic or hospital, we ensure that by being in the community, by visiting every household, we can improve health and prevent or reduce the severity of disease,” explained the university’s Professor Tessa Marcus.
Dr Linda Kroukamp, who is the project leader, believes that the project will show that people who use drugs can be redeemed and become responsible community members. She believes the approach would cost less than popular solutions.
“Coming from a background in pharmaceutical business and being involved with rollout of programmes focusing on increasing access to affordable healthcare including medicines in Africa, I am well aware of the need to ensure that projects are sustainable, practical and appropriate to the setting,” Kroukamp said. “Most importantly they must be cost effective. For years, we have been spending millions on building rehabs but they can only help a few people at a time and the evidence shows they are not entirely successful.”
Sakkie du Ploy, the Member of the Mayoral Committee (MEC): Health, said initially, she had lost hope the city would address the prevalence of drug abuse.
“When I learnt about and saw the magnitude of young people enslaved to by drugs and how their lives were messed up, I doubted the metro was ever going to make any difference to this situation. That was a year ago. COSUP has revived my hopes. I am confident that this is not a hopeless situation,” du Ploy said.
Shaun Shelly, an expert on drug abuse and policy, as well as the consultant on the project, believes COSUP puts the City of Tshwane ahead of other metropolitans .
“This project is unique because most cities are not prepared to back science and approaches that work. They are so used to the ‘war on drugs’ talk. They are simply afraid to take the brave steps that the City of Tshwane has taken,” Shelly concluded. – CAJ News