It’s just after 9am but the house that has become known as a crime hub in New Woodlands, Mitchells Plain, already has its first visitor.
The house has been identified as one of 130 problem buildings the city plans to clean up. This specific house has been found to be a crime and drug den.
The air inside is stale, and flies swarm around the living room. Blankets cover holes in walls where the windows used to be, blocking out the sun. The doors have been destroyed.
Five people live here, all of them addicted to heroin.
Rafiq, 22, the early visitor, had come in search of someone who could join him to buy heroin worth R30, known as a quarter. A “quarter” is a ball of heroin smaller than a watch battery.
Rafiq, who is shaking because of withdrawal, has only R15.
“Heroin is a very expensive drug. A quarter gives you a high that doesn’t last more than a few hours before the craving sets in. Every day I spend about R60 to R120 on heroin. The withdrawal kicks in a few hours after your last hit. The high doesn’t even matter anymore. I smoke just to keep me from falling apart.”
Rafiq is out of luck as none of the house’s five residents has money to join him. He leaves.
Peter arrives. He lies down on a dirty mattress in the living room.
He hears Willie, the owner of the house, coughing, and says: “He’s turkeying (going through withdrawal).”
Besides the mattresses the only other furniture in the room is a cabinet filled with romance novels and other books. The books aren’t there for reading. “We use the pages to roll joints when we don’t have enough money for heroin,” explains Peter.
Peter is waiting for some friends to join him in search of money to buy heroin. The friends arrive and then leave with Peter.
In an upstairs bedroom Sindy, 34, and her boyfriend, Shahiem, 28, wake up. She’s craving heroin, she says, clinging to a stuffed toy lion.
“I can’t even get out of bed before I have my first hit. My body is filled with pain and it feels like my spine will snap because of the withdrawal symptoms. If I don’t get some heroin in my system soon the pain will become unbearable.”
Sindy, a former homecare nurse, has been on heroin for just over 18 months after trying the drug with friends. She soon lost her job, and an opportunity to study physiotherapy, and was kicked out by her family after she stole from them.
Sindy now works as a waitress at a restaurant in Constantia to support the couple’s drug habit. More than 80 percent of her income goes to heroin.
“Food comes second to the heroin. Everything is second to the heroin. I don’t recognise the person I’ve become. All I see when I look into the mirror is a junkie. You can’t defend an addiction like heroin but you try anyway because you’re in that situation. The first thing you lose to heroin is yourself.”
By 1pm, about 15 people have been to the house for a fix. For some it’s the first for the day, for others it’s the second. It probably won’t be their last.
Farghad, 26, has been addicted to heroin for 10 years and been to rehab 10 times. His family thinks he’s clean, but he uses the money they give him for taxi fare to go to rehab for his heroin habit.
“I’m an outpatient at a local rehab but it hasn’t helped me kick the habit. They give you psychological treatment but your body needs to detox. I tried to go cold turkey once but ended up in hospital because of the withdrawal.
“I’m due to go to the Stikland rehab in a month and hope I’ll finally be free but I know it’s up to me to change.”
Farghad disappears into the back of the house with a piece of foil and a packet of heroin in his pocket.
He places heroin, in a powder form, on the foil and burns it from below before inhaling the smoke.
He then heads home to tell his mother about his “rehab visit”.
Ricardo, 42, says heroin has consumed his life since he first tried it six years ago. He is on the verge of homelessness.
“I’ve been staying with different friends over the last few years but next week I’ll have to move out. I’ll be back on the streets looking for a home, a job and a way to buy heroin. A lot of the guys at the house steal and rob people but I know that means jail and I won’t risk it.
“My 10-year-old daughter is disgusted with me. She sees me begging for money and calls me a ‘druggie’, I’ve lost everything to this drug.”
Up to 40 people move in and out of the house throughout the day.
The house will soon be dealt with by the city. But the drug users aren’t bothered.
“If we get kicked out of this place there’s always another around the corner, they’re all over the place,” said one 17-year-old as he smoked his hit of heroin.