Zimbabwe is largely viewed by the outside world as a drug free country in terms of availability and usage of illegal commercial drugs such as cocaine, heroin and ecstasy. However, the Anti-Drug Abuse Association of Zimbabwe provides shocking statistics which reveal that about 43% of students in high school have used or come in contact with some illegal drugs or substances.
One of our readers asked us the following questions:
- Why are there are so many drugs in our society?
- What drugs are being abused?
- Where do these drugs come from and how?
- Who are the syndicates running and profiting from the illegal drug trade?
- What is our legal system doing to ensure this issue is addressed?
Why are there drugs in our society?
Current economic challenges in Zimbabwe have, to a large extent, created room for increased illegal drug trafficking. Estimates are that nearly 85% of the employable population is unemployed, most of them youths who are recent graduates from universities and other technical training colleges. Many of these youths are turning to consumption of or trading in illegal drugs or substances to drown their sorrows and frustrations over their unemployment, or as a source of income.
Those who trade in drugs play different roles. Some of them serve as middlemen of the rich drug lords who supply them with drugs to peddle on the streets, in pubs or in nightclubs while others grow and sell cannabis themselves.
Types of drugs traded and abused in Zimbabwe
Cannabis (mbanje, marijuana) is the most commonly used drug in Zimbabwe because it is locally grown. Other drugs such as heroin, glue and cough mixtures such as Broncleer (bronco) are also high ranking amongst commonly abused drugs. Mandrax, cocaine, hashish, crystal Methamphetamine (also known as tik) and ecstasy are also increasingly becoming easily accessible.
Where do the drugs originate from?
The most common drug is cannabis because it is home grown. Tonga tribes along the Zambezi River in Binga use it openly as part of their traditional rituals and ceremonies and also for its healing properties. It is also grown in Chipinge, Chiredzi and Nyanga. Cannabis is also smuggled in from Malawi, Mozambique and other neighbouring countries where it is more commonly used. Cocaine, heroin and other hard drugs have been recently making long trips from their traditional bases in Latin America to Zimbabwe. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) 2015 World Drug Report reports that Afghan heroin bound for Europe and other regions has been smuggled to Southern Africa, including Zimbabwe across the Indian Ocean. Methamphetamine produced in West Africa is also being smuggled into East and South- East Asia via Southern African countries including Zimbabwe.
Who are the drug traffickers?
There are several underground syndicates of drug barons operating in major cities such as Harare and Bulawayo and strategic border towns such as Beitbridge and Mutare which give them access to neighbouring countries. In the drug trafficking industry local Zimbabweans constitute an estimated mere 1% of the traffickers. The CIA in its World Fact Book alleges that senior government officials are involved in drug trafficking.
Most of the traffickers cover their illegal trade in the shadow of legitimate businesses such as commercial and public transport sectors and beef transportation. Haulage trucks (magonyet) are used to carry these drugs. Human Trafficking syndicates also use human beings as mules for drug trafficking, targeting vulnerable children and women.
What does our law say?
Zimbabwe’s Dangerous Drugs Act [Chapter 15:02] makes it clear that the following types of drugs are illegal: Coca leaves, coca bush, cannabis plant or Indian hemp (both raw and prepared) also known as “bhang”, “camba”, “dagga”, “mbanje” or “intsangu and Opium (raw and prepared). The law prohibits and controls the production or manufacture, possession, sale, use or distribution of drugs and the cultivation of plants. Crimes punishable under the Criminal Law Code relating to dealing in dangerous drugs include; unlawful possession or use of dangerous drugs, allowing one’s premises to be used for the unlawful dealing in or use of dangerous drugs; hiding, disguising or benefitting from the proceeds of the unlawful dealing in dangerous drugs as well as possessing and using dangerous drugs.
Medicinal opium, cocaine, morphine and other drugs are allowed but strictly in the quantities regulated by the Ministry of Health and can only be possessed, transported, manufactured and stored by legally licensed companies. Any prohibited drugs confiscated by the police will be destroyed 21 days after the conclusion of the case.
A person can be sent to prison for a period of 15 to 20 years plus ordered to pay a level fourteen fine for doing the following in relation to the trade of dangerous drugs:
offering for sale
advertising for sale
inciting another person to consume
If the person does not pay the fine and is in default the term of imprisonment will be increased by another 5-10 years
Drug use or abuse including acquiring or possessing a dangerous drug; ingesting, smoking or otherwise consuming a dangerous drug; or cultivating, producing or manufacturing a dangerous drug for own consumption is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 5 years and a level 10 fine or one of the two. In addition if the person is a drug addict, he or she may be forced to undergo treatment for the addiction.
Drug related crimes committed outside Zimbabwe which fit the description of crimes under Zimbabwean law can also be punished in Zimbabwe if a court decides so. It does not matter whether the crime was committed in Zimbabwe or not.
Zimbabwe is a party to many international instruments that address the problem of Drug Trafficking. It is party to the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 U.N. Convention on Psychotropic Substances, the 1988 U.N. Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the 2000 U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and the 2003 U.N. Convention against Corruption. It is also a member of the SADC (Protocol on Combatting Illicit Drug Trafficking). Zimbabwe enacted an Anti-Money Laundering Law in 1991 and set up a Financial Intelligence Unit responsible for tracking illicit financial flows which became operational in 2004. This has largely prevented drug traffickers from targeting Zim as a market because the system makes it difficult to move their proceeds. Rather, Zimbabwe is used as a transit zone and the high levels of corruption in immigration, border control, and the police service make it easy for drugs to be transported via land and air.
If you want to read more on how drug traffickers in Southern Africa are trying to beat the law read Pages 21 to 37 of This Report
 Prosper Simbarashe Maguchu is a Zimbabwean lawyer specialising in financial crimes and human rights at a Germany based think tank.
 Taona Blessing Denhere is an LLB student at Coventry University. His research interests are in social justice and human rights.