November 12, 2010 – Through the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s HIV/AIDS community conversations process, the people of KwaMakhutha in KwaZulu-Natal have identified a major problem leading to the spread of HIV/AIDS in their community.
Wunga is a lethal combination of antiretrovirals (ARVs), marijuana, rat poison, clay and detergent that is said to be a growing problem in South African communities. ARVs are often stolen from HIV-positive people for the production of this recreational drug.
At a series of community conversations held in KwaMakhutha recently, wunga was the main topic under discussion. Community members claimed that the high number of wunga addicts and the accessibility of the drug is causing a rise in crime, violence against women and ARV theft, as well as acts of vigilantism against wunga addicts.
At a conversation held on October 21, 2010, community members, stakeholders and local government representatives filled the S’phumelele Community Hall. Representatives from the South African Police Force (SAPF), the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA), the Safer Cities programme and the I Care campaign were also at the event.
Organisations gave presentations on the work they do and called on community members in need to seek help. SAPF Captain Khumalo of KwaMakhutha Police Services implored the community to work with the police in curbing wunga-related crimes. He explained that substance abuse cannot be separated from behaviour that encourages the spread of HIV. It was noted that there were members of the police force involved in selling the drug and Khumalo encouraged the community to report these officers.
Community conversations employ the Community Capacity Enhancement (CCE) methodology designed by the United Nations Development Programme, and are meant to create a safe space where individuals can talk openly about HIV/AIDS, the challenges they face, and how best to respond to the epidemic.
At the community conversation on October 21, three young men admitted to being wunga addicts and said that they needed rehabilitation. The community responded positively to the young men and offered support and assistance.
Following the conversation, the young men met with a task team created to resolve the wunga issue. A more intimate dialogue was staged and, using the CCE methodology, facilitator Lesley Nkosi helped the young men identify how their addiction impacts on the community and leads to the spread of HIV.
One wunga user said, “I know that if I can change, many young people will follow. I do not want to do this anymore. The problem is that whenever I try to stop I start getting really sick and my stomach hurts. The only thing I ... want to do then is to get my next fix. I know that if I can get to rehab I will never go back to this evil drug again.”
He explained that he had hopes and dreams and that addiction to wunga was standing in his way: “I have plans for my life and I cannot achieve them while I smoke because every cent I get goes towards wunga. I am ready to go into rehab right now, not next week or next month. Right now!”
Another wunga user said, “We feel bad that we’ve lost trust from our families and the community at large through stealing and robbing.”
Community conversation facilitators committed to helping these young men and identified the Ukukhanya Rehabilitation Programme, which provides full rehabilitation for R1 000 per person, for their treatment. Facilitator Lesley Nkosi donated R1 500 to send one of the young men on the programme.
Since this intervention there have been regular meetings with community members, stakeholders and representatives from the Nelson Mandela Foundation to keep everyone updated on the progress, both of the men concerned and regarding wunga addiction in the community.
This outcome in KwaMakhutha is an example of how the community conversations process empowers communities, helping members identify their problems as much as find solutions to them.