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by Karl Kemp / Images by Jaco du Plessis / 31.07.2014


Toevlug Rehabilitation Centre, Worcester
Toevlug is an island. The place is neat – gardens trimmed, pathways swept. It looks like a retirement home, apart from the security cameras and the constant squawk of announcements coming through the PA system. The centre stands in stark contrast to the grimy neighbourhood it’s located in. Down the road, the ‘Pink Flats’ spread out in dusty squalor – the government subsidised housing block from which many of the Toevlug patients hail.

Worcester is the heart of the tik-jungle out on the platteland planes. It’s the centre from where it all spreads. Most distributors pick up the tik here once it’s been run in from the Cape, and sell it in the smaller surrounding towns, places like Robertson. Toevlug is the only registered rehab facility in the region, and it’s smack bang in the middle of it all – a sheltered haven.

The consensus amongst patients, counselors and town folk alike, is that the town is a cluster fuck. The murder rate is sky-high. Money laundering goes hand in hand with the drug trade. Kids as young as 12 join gangs and smoke tik. Drug-related crime rates have doubled in the past five years – every year since 2006, without exception. Rumour is that the violence has died down in the past two months because one of the ringleaders has been taken into custody, but this fragile peace never lasts long. The gang wars take place just five minutes from the more affluent areas around the shops and cafes.

We begin our journey, ironically, at the last chapter in a tik addict’s story. Through the steel fence, all I see is a squat complex with grass greener than any outside its border. We need to speak to the saved.

I stub out a cigarette and walk through the gate.


A young coloured guy and his parents sit in reception, where we introduce ourselves and are told to sit and wait. A television is playing a slideshow of drug abuse stats and Christian faith messages. We ask him what he’s in for when his parents leave, father stoic, mother tearful. “Tik,” he answers unsurprisingly. “This is my last chance.”

It finally sinks in where we are, what we’re doing. We’re fetched by a staff member, before we can ask any more questions.

We’re introduced to Chrisme; a cheery social worker not much older than us, maybe 24 or 25. She takes us through the centre, offers coffee, listens intently and answers honestly. The patients have leisure time and exercise between classes, and we find them in a desolate courtyard in the centre of the complex. They’re almost exclusively Afrikaans coloureds. Most stand, some sit, a few keep busy around a punching bag. One poses for us, tells us he’s actually a billionaire. It’s sedated chaos, the floors and walls bare. Maybe I’m imagining the moaning, but not the discordant singing. Further down the hall is the detox room.

“These are the ones who don’t play well with others,” Chrisme says, “not when they first come in. They’re kept separate until the agitation wears off.” We catch a few glares before she closes the door on the addicts fighting the hardest part of the war… cold turkey, paranoia, the sweats.

The state sponsors a total of 220 beds in here, 70 of which are for youth only. Patients with medical aid are taken in first. From there on, it’s a waiting list – an extremely long one. Many of the poorest residents in Worcester will be on it perennially, and for the vast majority, it will be for tik addiction. I can tell Chrisme is somewhat despondent about the situation, but then what can she do? She tells us that the youth have their own dorms and aren’t allowed contact with the adults.

One of those who received a state-sponsored bed is Pang*, a 14-year-old coloured kid. We sit down with him outside. He’s been smoking tik since he was 12. I ask him where he’s from. “Flats,” he says, making a gesture down the road. “Ek het glue gesnuif eerste. Toe begin ek tik in my strate.”


I’ve never interviewed someone this young, so I sit down cross-legged so as not to intimidate him. Then I realise a kid who’s seen what he’s seen has little to fear from a white journo in skinny jeans. I ask him what he got up to with the gangs.

“Mense se goeters hou. Mense se tik aan te hou, weg te dra. Weg te steek. Hulle het vir my guns gegee, al daai goeters. Om te hou. Ek het geld gesteel om te rook. Mense geroof ook. Die mense in die dorp. Met ‘n mes. Ons skud vir hulle uit. Ek weet dis verkeerd. Maar as ek nie het nie, dan vat ek maar.”

We ask him what it’s like living in the Pink Flats: “Dis baie swaar meneer, ek wil nie meer daar wees nie. Baie gevaarlik. Dis nou so stil…snags, da da da, skietery. Daar’s klomp mense wat tik, ou anties ook.”

The letters ‘HL’ are crudely inked into his wrist – the markings of the notorious Hard Livings gang. He wants to change, but that’s about the most sense he makes. His brain is too far gone. It’s hard to get a  quote. I have to coax the info out of him. He has no family left in Worcester, and will be going to an orphanage in Cape Town upon conclusion of his treatment. He spouts off the gangs he’s been with and/or against – Fast Guns, Criminals, Junior Cisko Yakkies (JCYs) and the Dogg Pounds. The latter two we know as the most active in the area. And, as suspected, the tik isn’t made in Worcester: “Die mense gaan kry dit in die Kaap meneer. In pakkies. Ek het al verkoop.”

We ask him whether his friends want to join him here and the answer is an almost condescending ‘no’: “Almal tik meneer, ALMAL. Erger en erger. Hulle nodig hulp.”

“Ek het gedink ek is beter as hulle. Toe het ek besef – ek is ‘n gangster meneer. Ek moet uit die ding uit kom meneer, ek is te jonk. Wat baat dit? Dis tronk toe of dood.”

Pang leaves us with a nod from Chrisme and an exasperated silence from me. We see him riding a bike with some other kids right before we leave. They don’t really smile.

Imam* joins us at a table later. He’s 24, and started smoking at 15. He’s also from the Pink Flats. “Daar was nie baie gangsters gewees toe ek begin rook het nie, maar nou is daar baie meer as daai tyd. Dis rof daarso. Baie rof,” he explains.
“Ek het nooit belangstelling gehad in gangsters nie. Ek het huisprobleme gehad en nie regtig vriende gehad nie. Dit het ‘n knou op my gehad en ek het nie ‘n uitweg gehad nie. Dit het my kalmeer, en my gedagtes afgehaal van alles en almal af.”

When I tell him about Pang, he laughs and says that’s not the worst of it. “Daar’s nog jonger. Daar’s enetjie daar in die flats. Ek vir hom skat wanneer hy begin het, so 9 of 8. Buttons gerook, tik gerook. Loop met net sulke lang mense.”

I ask what he feels like on tik: “Dit vat my waar ek wil wees,” he smiles dreamily.

We ask Chrisme if they have any patients that were involved with gangsterism on a large scale, and she goes off to consult some of her patients. 10 minutes later a thickset coloured man with piercing eyes sits down across the table from me outside her office. This is who we’ve been waiting for… Johannes*.


“The situation in the platteland; drugs and gangs. Is it worse now than when you were dealing?” I ask as he takes one of my cigarettes. “Oh yes,” comes the answer. “Most definitely. Way up. Way up.” He lights up and ponders. Then he starts talking, and doesn’t stop for a while. He’s got two kids, 8 and 9 years old. Dealt tik in Namaqualand, was high up in a gang. He explains that the police were on his payroll and that he got kids hooked. He says that using and dealing tik was the only thing that kept him alive – always on the knife-edge between a life of crime, and life in jail. He says that the demand for tik has been steadily increasing for the past 10 years.

“Sê nou maar ‘n ou pay R10 000. Vyf, sesduisend rand kan ek verseker wees is myne. Ek sit vir hom so in die skuld… hy móét eerste na my kom. As hy pay, dan pay ek.”

He shows us his scars.

“Sien jy hier? Dit was ‘n panga. ‘n Steek vir die dood. In my rug is twee skote ook nog. Maar die ouens wat ‘n aanslag op my gemaak het, sjo, het nie eintlik gelewe nie. Maar ek is nie spyt daaroor nie, sien jy, want hulle was almal slegte mense.”
“Ek het poliesmanne op payroll gehad my bra. Partykeer soek hulle vroumense vir die nag. Need something from you, you need something from me.”

“Dockets must disappear, nè? Right.”

Many police also abuse tik. And if they were clean, Johannes did his best to get them hooked.

“As ek ou ’n op drugs wil hê, then I tell a girl, a woman, to go there. Give him a fuck. Then give him a lollie. Dit maak dit baie tempting. Hy verwag dit nie. As ek dit vir hom aangebied het, sou hy nee gesê het. So – ek gee dit vir Eva. Eva must give it to him.”

“Then you’ve got him. Net een hit. It’s over.”


The women comply because they owed him money for tik. And so the cycle of prostitution and addiction begins. “Dis amper soos jy own haar. Dis ‘n bose, bose netwerk. Jy besit eintlik iemand se siel. Jy besit hulle heeltemal, totally.”

Sure enough, about two weeks after our interview, five cops are arrested for assisting the JCYs with prison murders.

After Toevlug we visit the Worcester police station but it’s a shambles. We’re told to lodge an official media request with the provincial department by the spokesperson. So we decide to go take photos of the Pink Flats instead. Along the road between Roodeville and the Flats, we crawl past. Three boys kicking a soccer ball about stare, so we stop and take a few photos. We park, we trudge through mud and rubbish tips towards the apartment blocks, bedraggled with fading graffiti and clotheslines – colourful yet ominous.

*Images and video © Jaco du Plessis
**Read Part I.  In Part III, we travel to Robertson and meet a dealer on the outskirts of town, where a lollie gets klapped and the hard truth gets tapped.

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