Posted by: davidjolson | 11/17/2010

Whoonga: The cruelest drug of South African slums

This guest blog was written by Jeanette Strydom, the relationship officer at Africa Health Placements, a member organization of GHC based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — “Whoonga” is a new, deadly drug which is slowly becoming common in South African slums. It was first reported in Durban – but has since spread to other parts of the country. Not only is this drug easily accessible, it is sold very cheaply.

It is a concoction of various substances: rat poison, soap powder and the main ingredient – anti-retrovirals (ARVs) or AIDS medication.  Whoonga is distributed as a fine white powder which is added to marijuana and/or tobacco. This mixture is smoked – the result is said to be one of the most lethal drugs in the world.

Whoonga is highly addictive, even after only one hit, and leads to violent side-effects such as anxiety, aggression, stomach cramps, slowing down of the heart rate and lungs. If taken in overdose, heart and lung function reduction becomes fatal. The resulting withdrawal symptoms reportedly involve both extreme craving and pain, which are only temporarily relieved by fresh doses of the drug. A few users have alledgedly died from crippling stomach cramps and acute pain.

Though one hit costs only R20 (about US $3) a whoonga addict needs several hits per day, and users are typically too poor to afford the drug out of legal income. Addicts therefore turn to crime to raise the money to secure a regular supply.

Since the use of whoonga has come to light there have been several alarming reports indicating that AIDS patients are being robbed of their ARVs when leaving their local clinic, leading to sporadic intake, or them going without. Other patients are willing to sell them – free ARVs are now valuable for reasons other than their intended purpose — to save lives. Corrupt health workers and clinic staff have also reportedly been selling ARVs illegally for the whoonga market.

If all of this is not shocking and saddening enough, several addicts intentionally seek to become HIV positive enabling access to a steady supply of ARVs, for free – therefore not having to worry about sourcing, funding or committing crime in the process.

This drug has created a great deal of media attention – and is greatly feared for its social implications. Substances such as rat poison, soap powder and ARVs cannot be banned as they are legal substances.

According to a report by Al Jezeera, earlier this year, “Backroom experimentation produces an ever-changing array of concoctions that offer a cheap and lethal high. With South Africa finally making inroads in the battle against HIV and AIDS after years of denialism, this is a dreadful blow.”

South African authorities are aware of whoonga. The police and the National Addiction Council have said on several occasions that they are doing what they can. With limited resources to turn the tide on ignorance among the ill-educated, officials admit efforts to promote awareness are not enough.

One group is making a difference — Project Whoonga needs all the help it can get.


  1. This is very informative. I work with home-based carers who reported that the clients at Nelson Mandela Municipality in Eastern Cape are afraid to pass a certain area because they get mugged of their ARVs on their way back from the ARV clinic. This is a popular and dangerous drug amongst youth like ” Nyaope” commonly used in Gauteng Province.

  2. If I may share light on an something that has been too heavy on my heart, my name is Thabiso from Kzn South Africa. I want to comment on a project called PROJECT WHOONGA. This project was started by Mr Bongumusa Molefe of KwaDabeka Township who was bulldosed out of it by Thokozani Sokhule, Vumani Gwala (of DM Media a company that Molefe had hired to shoot the movie for him), Sifiso Zungu (a ward councillor) and Enforce Security Services (who came in as a sponsor with Rand 80,000 in a Rand 1,5 million project) they said that Mr. Molefe and Mr. Nathi Shude of Starwise Youth Promotions an N.P.O that houses Project Whoonga used the funds fraudulently, and they were taken to court where on the 23 of November 2010. The court found them NOT GUILTY.

    Mr. Bongumusa Molefe and Mr. Nathi Shude have a list of drug dealers in and around Durban, this list goes as far as the places they went to which is Cape Town, Gauteng, Port Elizabeth and Eastern Cape where these young man took a leap of faith by travelling with drugs to these places in order to find out why is it that the WHOONGA in KZN is the strongest and the most feared in South Africa. What they found is mind blowing, not thinking of the fact that they had to go past four road blocks with sniffer dogs on their way to Gauteng. They compiled a list of drug dealers, runners and manufacturers, they were doing this to help themselves when they were to start their campaigns as they had planned that the movie whoonga will not be sold but it will be viewed by the public where the rehabilitated drug addicts that are actors in the movie will address the communities about the dangers of crime and drugs.

    As we speak the movie is complete, and it was completed by the efforts that both Mr Bongumusa Molefe and Mr Nathi Shude dedicated to that movie, Mr Bongumusa Molefe or Boh as he is known wrote, directed, produced and acted on the movie, he was then bulldosed under hedius charges by people who are now using the very same drug addicts that he had grouped together as “slaves”. Thokozani Sokhulu, a cop by the way has an upholstery business on the side and he is using the very same addicts that act in the movie as employees disguised as as win of the project, he takes the money when the addicts do all the work.

    Boh and Nathi have teamed up with a community worker Ms Mbali Strydom to raise funds for a REHAB CENTRE that they want to be in the township and free of charge given that 90% of the people dont have the money for rehabs, the project that they had started is now not working and these drug addicts have gone back to their old lives of crime and drugs but still blaming Mr Molefe, Mr Shude and Ms Strydom for deserting them and leaving them with people whose interest was to use them to get money and fame.

    The trio, Mr Boh Molefe, Ms Strydom and Mr Shude are working for the community and wish that someday the information they have gained can be used to better the community and help the drug addicts that they had promiced to help. These three have also with a someone who didn’t want his name said have deserved a drug that helps drug addicts stay out of drugs which is why they want to start a rehab centre, having them as friends has helped me realise the threat that my country is under when it comes to drugs, Mr Bongumusa Molefe had said this when they were invited by Ukhozi FM that Whoonga was going to be the biggest treat that South Africa had ever met up with.

    In the next months after his statement people have been killed for this drug, some killed by it and the national government made a joke by cartoonists for not dealing with the drug effectively, I really do think and know that these three and their team of rehabilitating drug addicts can do a lot to help South Africa deal and force out drugs.

    I’m doing this to reach out for help to those who can help them, their email address, is or call them on (+27) 0 84 509 5328 Bongumusa, (+27) 0 74 065 8232 Mbally and (+27) 0 83 527 9066

    I would loke my country to be free of drugs and crime and I believe that these three with the actors of WHOONGA can do a lot to help us, I’ve heard from someone that they are working on another movie that will show things that Molefe had left out intentionally when doing the first one, this one will also be showing the field of HIV where Ms Strydom has dedicated her life to helping those infected and affected by it, I’m happy to call them my friends for the work that they do, selflessly and for nothing but the betterment of their country.

    You can also call Ntokozo Mfusi of the Mercury Newspaper in South Africa who can also tell you more about these remarkable young people who have had their name dragged through the mud for doing what they love and what will help the country, her number is (+27) 0 74 172 9035.

    Thank you,
    Thabiso S Khwela

  3. The sad thing is even the nurses in the clinics are selling the ARVs. Also some of the patients are selling their medication.

  4. This story is in South African headlines with it being World AIDS Day today.

  5. I’ve experienced the terrible effects of the drug “Whoonga.” It wrecked havoc in my household. .My younger brother (aged 21 years) has been on the drug for 2 years. It reached a point whereby he stole stuff from our home sold it. We knew he needed help. It’s so sad because he really suffered. Some people who cannot afford proper medication or treatment are left with no hope of getting cured polices have turned us down community seems to be buzzed & some people are not willing to help their kids & are judgmental well I refuse to lay back I’m doing whatever it takes to help my family because right now people need to swallow there pride & stick together to help one & other!!!!!! MY. BROTHER IS ON THE ROAD TO RECOVERY 🙂

  6. I was excited today on Oct 4, 2011 when in one of the local SA soapies “Scandal” they talked about Whoonga and how it is concocted. I think it is good when issues like drug abuse are addressed although most of the time they talk to the converted because the people who should listen and learn about such critical life changing issues are out in the street. However not all is lost because the few that have not started engaging risk behaviors of abusing iliicit drugs get to learn some valuable lessons.

    • The youth hooked to whoonga are so destroyed and they are a danger to themseleves, their families and communities. They steal anything from anybody, be it a strangers or loved ones, they dont care. They have lost a sense of judgement. They even steal from people who feed and house them. They are not shy of destroying people’s properties and valuable and excchange them for a very cheap price. Look around from anywhere you are, whenever you see a missing steel or metal structures; that is trails of “Whoonga Addicts” destroying things for the next fix.The person who concocted and created “whoonga” should burn in hell. They destroy our children, youth and nation. IT is bad and very sad. i think the law enforcement agencies should be up in arms to track all the Scrap Metal retail places and raid if they are following the new regulation Minister Mthethwa spoke about few months ago. really an irresponsible person cannot come in and exchange stuff they do not own. police should be called to nab this ailment. it is killing our communities. There is so much I can say about the “Whoonga” and its ripple effects.

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