As a 19 year-old Philile Ngidi ought to be pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a doctor, or atleast staying at home to take care of her six year old daughter, instead she
spends her days sleeping with random men for as little as R5 in order to fund
her addiction to the deadly drug whoonga.
Philile from Umlazi 20km south of Durban is one of a growing number of young women who have fallen victim to whoonga, a mixture of anti-retroviral drugs (ARV), marijuana and rat poison (Rattex). The drug has made news headlines and is being blamed for a surge in crime in KwaZulu-Natal’s townships.
She rents a run-down shack, from where sheentertains her clients, who range from high class people and just the ordinarytownship drunkards.She has heard of people
who have died because of whoonga addiction and she has seen some of the
symptoms these people had before they died. “I fear death more than
anything because I do not know how I am going to die.” One of her current boyfriends
has been arrested more than twice in connection with the drug. “The straw”
which is a slang name for whoonga is R25 each and it is 2cm long.
She started sleepingaround at the age of 10. She doesn’t care mostly about her reputation but doesn’t want her child exposed to that kind of life. Even though it’s hard to hide it because
it’s what everyone in the community is talking about. She says she doesn’t need
help because she thinks its ok; it’s fashionable and makes you popular.
Philile started smoking cigarettes at the age of 12, and moved on to dagga, and she found herself hooked on to whoonga eight months ago after her boyfriend introduced her to it.
“I smoke four times a day and that has become my daily routine.” she says. “And
so it becomes very hard when I’m not getting customers and not making money. When
the craving gets hold of her, her body itches from head to toe, she trembles,
can’t think properly and gets very irritable.
She wakes up at the crack of dawn to get to “work” and always tries to look the part.
Often she leaves her daughter (six) behind without even feeding or bathing her.
Then her step mother is left to do all her duties. “I have to get out of the
house as soon as possible, she says and try and get some money to buy my first
“straw”. Philile has lived this routine for over five years now. She first sold
her body to feed her baby and later to feed her addiction. Everyday she walks
about 2km to her dealer in J section a part of Umlazi that has become notorious
for its gangs, violence and drug syndicates. Philile makes a trip to and from
her dealer several times a day in a bid to relive the urge.
As the day progresses, the craving also gets hold of her. “You have to answer to it,” she says. At about 10 o’clock she roams the empty township streets to find neglected things,
she could sell or goes back home to get food after she has smoked her first “straw”.
“Midday is usually quiet that just my time to catch the breath and think of the
When the night comes Philile and her two boyfriends stand outside their rented shack and wait for Philile’s clients. At the end of each night they calculate and divide the money
amongst the three and true to form most of it goes up in smoke and so once
again in the morning Philile has to wake up and do it all again.