In this instalment of Street Life, Susan, a 28-year-old former prostitute and local drug mule living on the streets of Hillbrow shares her story. “It’s getting really lame,” she says. By GREG NICOLSON.
My own mistakes have led me to where I am today. My grandmother gave me the best education she could afford, the best of everything. I have a five-year-old daughter and smoked throughout my pregnancy. I met my baby daddy in the brothel. He was white and a foreigner and now works in Thailand, of all places. It didn’t work out, unfortunately, because I’m a druggy. But I have a beautiful five-year-old girl who needs me and I need her. My daughter’s at home with my grandparents and by the grace of God I’ve never brought her here.
I’m from south of Jo’burg. My family life was normal, nothing out of the ordinary, but in my first semester at varsity, I was given my school fees in a lump sum and I blew part of it. I didn’t blow the money on drugs or anything. It was alcohol, partying. In my first semester I had less than R10,000 in my account and that wasn’t going to cover me pretending to be going to school. I thought I could make the money. I was kind of desperate and while browsing the newspaper, I found an ad which happened to be for a brothel but it was disguised as a massage parlour.
I went for an interview and that’s when I found out it was a brothel. The money seemed very enticing. They said you can make R15,000 a month working part-time. I started working there and convinced my grandparents that I was going to be staying at res.
That was a hell of an experience because that’s where I got into drugs. Smoking clients want a smoking girl. There’s a lot of money in the brothels. We’d be 18 girls in one house, a beautiful mansion in the suburbs. The guy would come in, wait at the bar area and get to meet each of the girls, in lingerie, personally. Then he’d pick one.
For me it was fun because it was a different experience all together. In the brothel, it’s not about looks or weight or your body or how good you are, it’s about personal preference, what a guy prefers and if you’re willing to play out his fantasies. You’re not forced to do everything. You choose what you will do and how far you’re willing to go. I did everything aside from anal and chocolate showers (it has nothing to do with chocolate, or a shower – GN). I did golden showers. It was fun because I learnt a whole lot of new things. I got to find myself sexually. I got to find out what I like and dislike.
There was a lot of money and you’re supposed to use that job as a stepping-stone to something better. Now I got into the drugging so that was going to be impossible. It’s not easy to discipline yourself when you’re in a brothel in terms of not drugging because the majority of the clients are on drugs. They come and will be drugging while they book you. A guy will come and book you for five hours because he’s busy smoking. Some of them don’t even touch you. They just want the company.
There’s a lot of drugging in the brothels. A lot. It’s difficult to say that you won’t drug because you’ll lose out on a lot of money. A client will never take a non-smoker because it’s going to be awkward when your client is busy smoking if you’re sober-minded.
The crap part is that when you working in a brothel and get money all the time, huge amounts – days aren’t the same; sometimes you’re busy; sometimes you’re not – then you deceive yourself into thinking, “Ah man, I’ll work tomorrow and cover the R2,000 I just blew.”
I met this friend of mine, her name was Lebo, and she was smoking. She was on heroin and crack. That’s when I started with the heroin. She used to lace it in a joint with weed and it would fuck me up like nobody’s business. Then I started with the crack and it escalated. We had a dealer who used to come for us. I learnt of the Sands in Hillbrow and learnt that I could score the drugs cheaper around here.
There’s this hotel here on Tudhope Ave. There was a white guy staying there. He was kind of a supervisor. He was into trafficking. He wasn’t a smoker but he was into trafficking. He only used to smoke himself up when he came back from trafficking. He’s the one that got me into it. I started locally, travelling to Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and KZN. I started with the ganja. That was simple because (the dealers) find a way to hide it in your luggage. I could take a taxi to KZN no problems. I would arrive and drop it off. I didn’t collect the money. They have their own way of knowing that the drop-off has been made and then I would come back.
He started using me to do his jobs. He thought he was clever. I was doing his work without his bosses knowing. Then he’d give me a small cut of what he was getting and I didn’t know. For me it was fun. At the time it was exhilarating. I loved the risk, the risk involved with doing this shit.
Then I started with smaller things. I was carrying moons – crack cocaine, it comes in moons and half moon blocks. I was carrying them from this flat up to the Sands. The Nigerian would be walking in front; I would follow him innocently, just casually walking with 10 moons on me. Half a moon costs R1,800. One Nigerian guy would be selling to another one. He would cut them up into smaller portions and make a killing out of it. I take them from here to way up there, maybe 10 blocks away, because the risk involved with the cops. Any Nigerian who walks around gets searched like mad, but for an innocent passer-by like me, the risk is minimal.
Then it would be the grams of cocaine or heroin. Then the (white guy) introduced me to the (traffickers) and I was baffled as to how I was going to move this stuff. They said, “Don’t worry, we’ll hide it.” But I’m a smoker as well and that used to be a problem because the Nigerians, they don’t want a smoker because it’s risky giving an addict drugs to take somewhere. But I never made any shit. Anyway, the first place I went to was Polokwane, Limpopo.
I carried the biggest consignment I had. It was 10kg of coke and some heroin. I had it in my luggage and in the seams of my clothes. They made small incisions in my jeans and put some stuff in there. It was all over me and my luggage. But that was easy because I would just jump in the taxi and go to Limpopo. There were no roadblocks and no one was going to search me. I got off at the taxi rank and went to the hotel where I was supposed to go.
There were roadblocks a few times. But they’d just check the driver out, randomly search the car. Our police system this side isn’t that up-to-date because the roadblocks are just a waste of time. They don’t do thorough searches. Most of the time I feel they don’t know what they’re searching for. There I am sitting in a car and this cop will be flirting with me rather than searching. There’ll be female cops more into bribery than doing their job. The fear would be there, but you just have to pray to God that everything goes smoothly. I would be scared shitless when I’d see cops but I’d have to be focused and not give it away.
It continued and continued and continued. They would tell me where I have to go. They’d give me money depending on how much I carried, but the most I would make would be R8,000. For me it was a lot because it’s like two days of my time and with that I would come back. They introduced the opportunity of going overseas but I was scared. Anything to do with an airport made me scared. I was not yet ready. Especially given that I would withdraw because I’m on heroin so I have withdrawal symptoms. There’s no smoking when you are going there.
The dealer screwed me over. There was a consignment that I took to the border of Mozambique. I was scared of crossing the border so just met the guy there. I was supposed to get R28,000 but all I got was R18,000. Once I got there, the officials thought it didn’t make sense for me to go all the way to the border and turn back. I had to sweet talk my way out of it, like, “I’m coming to meet my boyfriend. He’s supposed to give me something and I’ll go back home.” I was withdrawing like shit because I didn’t realise how many hours it would take to get me there. I found out afterwards that I was supposed to get R28,000. That’s when the whole problem started.
I stopped with the trafficking. With all of the hype, I was scared. I was terrified. The risk was just not that exhilarating for me. In any case, when I took the stuff, I had to get high so that I would overcome that fear I had and get an adrenaline rush. When I’m high, I feel I can do anything, like I’m on top of the world. But I didn’t trust them anymore and I didn’t know how long they’d been screwing me over. That’s when I realised that I was doing work that normal people sometimes get double what I’m getting. When he screwed me over, I stopped and continued with minor stuff, consignments around Hillbrow. Then I got into testing.
The Nigerians approached me. Before they purchase the stuff I have to test it to see if it is stuff and the quality of it. It’s dangerous but there are ways around it. I don’t just smoke it. The heroin for example, I put it on the foil and burn it first to check if it is heroin. If it is, then I’ll pull and tell the guys the quality and whether they should buy it or not.
This whole syndicate is run by Nigerians. The police will arrest a Zimbabwean guy on the street for fraud not knowing he has a Nigerian boss. The Nigerians have got us all like puppets working for them. They make the money. We do the dirty work for them but they’re the ones that are running this show. Myself, I’ll go and do credit card fraud. He’ll drive me there and stay in the parking lot. I’ll enter. I’ll swipe, come back, get in the car and give him the stuff. He’s going to give me a cut of what I’ve just gone to do. That’s how it works here.
I have a couple of bosses that I’m testing for but they rarely pay me. To them, what they give me is payment enough. But sometimes they bring me shit and what am I gaining? There are many times that they’ve brought shit that wasn’t even the drug itself and had I not been cautious and checked it first, who knows, I could have died.
When they are desperate they treat me well. But they do get big-headed when they see that I’m in a desperate situation. For example, if I’m sick in the morning, they don’t beg because they know that I need them more right now. They actually need me more because I could screw them over. If I tell them that the stuff’s good and they go and blow R30,000 on heroin and it’s shit, then I’m in trouble. But obviously I’m scared because they’ll kill me in a split second. Trust me, they’ll kill me.
I do want to stop but I have this fear of failure after everything my family has done for me. I’ve been on this shit for too damn long and have experienced too many things. For me, it’s just not worth it anymore. It’s not worth going to Limpopo or going to wherever for the eight grand and blowing it on a hotel, drugs and some nice clothes; a week later I’ll be penniless again. It’s getting really lame. DM
All names have been changed for this story. Photos have been withheld to protect the identity of the interviewee.
Photo: Drug-taking and trafficking is commonplace on the streets of Hillbrow. REUTERS