SWAKOPMUND - Ratames Tjikati (22) is a carefree, bubbly young man who has high hopes of becoming an entrepreneur one day. Just like any other young man, he is starting to figure out his purpose in life.
For the past three years, he has entered at least 20 offices in Swakopmund daily to sell cupcakes. His target is to sell at least 60 cupcakes every day. For his micro-business to keep head above water in this coastal town is a daily struggle.
However, Tjikati is also fighting another battle… staying drug-free.
Although he talks freely about it, his infectious smile and personality hide his struggle that saw him leaving Windhoek and wander around in Swakopmund, hustling for his next fix.
“I used crack cocaine, mandrax and marijuana,” the Ovitoto-born aspiring rapper says.
He was a normal child, growing up in Windhoek. He was so bright at school that he skipped at least one grade, which also saw him rose in popularity at his school.
“Due to this, I started hanging with the wrong crowd and soon found myself spiralling out of control with drugs. I lived on the street and use anything that I could get my hands on. That was the darkness I found myself in,” he says.
The situation got so out of hand that his uncle asked him to come to Swakopmund to see how he can help him.
Tjikati says that he has been battling with drugs since then and at some point, he went four years without using but relapsed to his old ways.
“I haven’t used mandrax and crack cocaine for the past three years now, But I can tell you that it is a constant battle to block out the urge of wanting to use again,” said Tjikati.
He says he met a couple while he was high on drugs in Swakopmund. They talked him into going to church.
“They have been instrumental and are very supportive in my recovery and spiritual journey.”
He is currently living in the DRC and has secured a job at a reputable business where he is expected to start by end of this month in Swakopmund.
“It’s not easy to kick the habit and I understand why people fall back on their old habits. The mind is what you need to control, but it is not easy,” he said.
Sharon Mouton (58), a single mother of three, said that her son’s drug addiction did not have a happy ending.
“Richard died of an overdose at 25. He was using mandrax as well as crack cocaine. I found him in his room two years ago with a white foam-like substance coming out of his mouth,” she said.
Mouton added that she carries immense guilt over her son’s addiction and death, as she somehow feels responsible for it.
“I saw the warning signs, but I don’t know if I was ignoring them or refusing to accept and act on it,” she explained.
According to her, Richard would come home extremely aggressive to such an extent the family would lock themselves in their rooms.
“I would sometimes take the girls and just go to Windhoek for weekends and school holidays just to avoid him but would return to appliances and household stuff sold by him.”
She said despite his aggressiveness and addiction, she never sought help, as she was ashamed of what society would think of her.
“I wish I had tackled his addiction better,” said Mouton.
However, Gordon Damaseb (16) is still chasing his next fix.
The visibly high Damaseb is a familiar face in the streets of Walvis Bay. He normally hangs with a group of young boys all not older than 18. They usually roam around town, especially in Sam Nujoma Avenue, where they harass motorists. They usually demand money and become aggressive when offered food instead.
“I don’t know how I got here, but I started experimenting when I was 11,” Damaseb, who clearly has not taken a bath in days,” told this reporter.
He explained he lived with his grandmother, but she died, and he had nowhere to stay, as he could not pay their rented shack.
“I tried to be a man by selling marijuana for someone in Kuisebmond. I would then use the money to buy food for myself, but it didn’t help because I did not have a place to stay.”
According to Damaseb, he started living in an old house in town with older men who used to smoke mandrax.
I got intrigued by the way they would explain how it felt to be high and started doing it with them. Before I knew it, I was hooked, he said.
Asked whether he would like to get help for his addiction, Damaseb replied, “not now... I am still not ready.”
Commenting on the issue, community affairs unit commander, Ileni Shapumba said that it is sad that the youth are caught up in drugs that have damaged so many families.
“These days drug operations on the streets are run by children. They are used by the big guns to sell and deliver drugs,” he said.
According to Shapumba, having access to drugs tempts the youth to experiment as well.
“In the meantime, drug dealers changed their modus operandi by beefing up their homes by installing close circuit television cameras, building high walls as well as acquiring dangerous guard dogs,” he said.
According to Shapumba, both parents and the community have to play a role not only to report drug operations but act when noticing their children might be caught up in the wrong crowd or started experimenting with drugs.
“We should not wait until the damage is done but should rather act as soon as we detect that they might be using. We need to be proactive and see drugs for what it is instead of turning a blind eye or hoping our children will stop on their own,” Shapumba said.
Leon Louw, a community activist and spiritual leader who also assist addicts on their road to recovery, said that drug addiction among the youth, as young as 11, is rife at the coast.
He, however, said that the main challenge is the lack of youth-friendly safe houses and rehabilitation centres.
“I have been involved in guiding several young people that are dealing with addiction. However, to be successful in that, they need to take the first step and must be willing to change their lifestyle as well as their environment.”
He added that three parts in the recovery process determine a successful recovery. One must first remove them from their known environment and start dealing with emotional, physiological aspects before we can successfully rehabilitate a person to become a productive citizen, he said.