The lolly lounges of Eldorado Park, a coloured township south of Johannesburg, have become infamous for drugs, sex, rape and emotional abuse.
The name “lolly lounge” is derived from the glass pipe used to smoke drugs like crystal meth and tik and is shaped like a lollipop.
Many children have been rescued from the dens, some too traumatised to speak about their plight.
A 14-year-old girl who was recently rescued from a lolly lounge to a safehouse run by the Eldorado Park Local Anti-Drugs Committee refused to talk. She just cried.
A letter from the residents of Eldorado Park in 2013 prompted President Jacob Zuma to visit the community. They talked about children who were addicted to drugs, the danger to their health, and the pain suffered by the parents.
“Mr President, you need to actively assist, we will do this together. Help us dad, help us Mr President. 80,000 people are turning to you for help,” said the letter.
After Zuma’s promise to help clean up the drug problem, police turned the heat on drug lords, with many arrests. Up to 20 lolly lounges were closed down between May and July 2013. For a while it seemed that the battle was over, but soon the lounges started resurfacing and today the problem remains.
Two years down the line, tiny Extension 4 has close to 20 lolly lounges and just a fortnight ago during a routine supply reduction visit, three school-going kids aged four, six and nine were found in one of them.
Dereleen James, the mother whose plea led President Zuma to visit the besieged area, says the drug dens are ever emerging in the township.
“Lolly lounges are popping up everyday, we have been visiting and serving them with warning letters,” Ms James said.
Many of the young women, who have been dragged into prostitution and drug abuse inside these lounges, are often reported as missing by their families.
Fazil Carrim, a former drug addict who used to frequent lolly lounges, said “These places are in the open, right under our noses.”
Ms James added: “Young kids below age 10 are being exposed to these activities.”
The most common drugs used to hook the said girls include heroin and mandrax, as well as crystal meth (cat) and tik. Once the girls are hooked on these drugs, they have to pay their way sexually and are used to trap men to spend more money on drugs in these lounges.
So-called tournaments, where one girl has sex with many men for a fix, are the norm in these lounges. Apparently, the accepted “exchange” is that one round of sex with a man equals one hit from a lolly pipe.
The lounges, which are usually run by drug syndicates, are spreading rapidly to other parts of Gauteng Province. They are found in townships such as Soweto, Crown Gardens, Fordsburg, Florida, Bosmont, Springs, Ennerdale and Westbury.
The lolly lounges look normal on the outside but the one common thing about them is the broken window. “I notice all of these lolly lounges have a broken window,” said a newspaper photographer.
These lolly lounges have a foul smell and a lot of tik packets (small packets where the dagga is packed). Some pack dagga into match boxes.
Interestingly, in most or all of these drug dens the ceilings are falling down.
Clothes are strewn all over the room. None of these “homes” have a television or any furniture in the lounge.
One woman says her brother steals and sells their property to sustain his drug habit.
Another common sight in each of these homes is people fast asleep at midday.
Most of the young people who frequent these places are loafers and do not go to work. The school -going kids skip lessons for weeks.
“It’s also normal to see a young girl come out of a room where three guys are asleep. You ask yourself what else happens during the night,” said a Westgate Flats resident.
Shoki Tshabalala, the Gauteng social department head, says the key thing is to get these kids back to school. Ms Tshabalala heads the task team that was set up after Zuma’s visit.
“We need to get those children back to school or a skills development centre. We cannot allow them to sit and do nothing,” Ms Tshabalala said.
She added that they would want the kids to be reunited with their families, who would then monitor their school attendance.
The EastAfrican also learnt that drug lords rob residents at “gun point” especially at night.
“We found three fake guns under a pillow. They use these fake guns to rob people,” said Ms James. One gun is so heavy it can be mistaken for a real weapon.
Captain Phillimon Korombi of Eldorado Park police station said the challenge with drug cases is the process of testing them at the laboratory.
“When we arrest a person we find with drugs we need a laboratory to test and verify the drugs. So we cannot keep that person locked up while the tests are completed,” Capt Korombi said.
Often, these criminals end up going scot free and return to their business.
A frustrated Ms James, whose son was once a regular at these lolly lounges, bemoans the weak justice system that has seen drug lords “enter through the front door and come out through the back door.”
Lolly lounges do not all sell or keep a huge supply of drugs, they are merely a base for those when take drugs. They know each other and supplies keep flowing.
Capt Korombi says when they close them, a few days later new ones are opened.
But the local anti-drug committee, police and the community are all determined to turn the heat on the drug lords.