Zimdancehall star Soul Jah Love recently came clean about his addiction to cocaine. This must have been a difficult step for him to take, especially as it came as he reflected on the causes of his break up with former lover and artistic partner, Bounty Lisa.
It's apparently taken for granted that Soul Jah Love, like many musicians and artists, opts to occasionally alter his mental state through the use of certain chemicals. Many saw his astonishing honesty as just another public stunt by an artistic, cultural and (I daresay) political maverick. However, I believe it is an opening for us to have a much needed conversation about drug abuse and addiction in Zimbabwe.
A few months ago, American media company Vice published a video report about Zimbabwe's Codeine cough syrup epidemic. Only foreigners would have been surprised to find out about this plague. Anyone living in an urban area in Zimbabwe, both low and high density, has come across the empty Broncleer bottles at some point. There is no limit to the number of jokes referencing "kustika", the zombie-like stupor that is one of the effects of the purple liquid.
Codeine cough syrup is just one manifestation of the smorgasbord of psychoactive substances now available to the Zimbabwean connoisseur of chemically induced alternative mental states. There is a crisis, and our young people are dying. Are we doing enough?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least 4% of Zimbabweans suffer from depression. The organization's 2018 figures show that Zimbabwe is ranked number 13 in the world in terms of deaths by suicide. Suicide deaths reach 1 641 or 1,30% of total mortalities in the country. While there are multiple factors involved, there is no denying that substance abuse plays a big role in these figures. Indeed, every person has the right to decide what they do with their body, but there are massive social costs that come with drug abuse.
It has become easy for Zimbabweans to dismiss every social problem as a manifestation of the country's tangled up politics. To a large extent, this perspective is true; many of our problems can be traced to a political origin. However, the intractable nature of our political problems should not stop us from trying to solve social ills where we can. We cannot afford to continue with a business-as-usual approach to what is obviously an epidemic.
The role of art in society
Unfortunately, Zimdancehall culture as exemplified by Soul Jah Luv, has been seen as promoting this culture of substance abuse. Zimdancehall DJ Fantan, real name Arnold Kamudyariwa, caught some flak recently for suggesting that artists will sing about what they see. "You sing what is happening on the streets and the society, this is what makes dancehall different from sungura or gospel," he is quoted as saying.
Art is indeed the mirror of society, and there is arguably no artistic vehicle at the moment that is better suited at capturing the experiences of young Zimbabweans than Zimdancehall. However, I think that the role of art or music does not end there. Beyond mirroring, art should paint the vision of what society should become. It is here that I feel Soul Jah Love's current tribulations should lead to a deeper conversation about substance abuse, and its effects. It would be sad to lose his amazing creativity and intellect to what he calls a "satanic drug".
In his own words, "... I say it's a satanic drug, and today that's why I urge the youth to stay away from bronco, mutoriro and the likes."
One can only hope that this is the beginning of a new era, not just for Chibaba, but for Ghetto Youths as a whole.
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