Nineteen-year old Lindokuhle Sobhekwa, who is in his final year at school, began photographing nyaope smokers in his East Rand neighbourhood last year
Since then he’s amassed a frightening and powerfully intimate body of work on addicts in ThokozaAt Buhlebuzile Secondary School in Thokoza, where I am in matric, I got involved in a project called “Of Soul and Joy”, which was supported by the Rubis Mécénat Cultural Fund and Easigas, and sponsored by Nikon Africa Trust.
My first series was on poor living conditions in the area. I did another on born-frees. My latest body of work is about those who use nyaope.
I began by photographing friends who live in my street. One day they saw me carrying a camera, so they called me and asked: “Can you take a picture of us?”
Some of them were smoking nyaope, a white powdery drug that’s made of low-grade heroin, dagga and other ingredients such as rat poison.
It was at that point I realised this was something I needed to tell others; something that would help educate the community about the drug that many in Thokoza use because they are suffering from either emotional trauma or depression.
They use nyaope as an escape mechanism to avoid difficulties they face. The drug leaves them feeling ecstatic. I discovered these things as I worked in these intimate situations.
Nyaope is like any other drug. As much as it makes its user feel good, it also comes with negative consequences. Some addicts do not have the money to maintain their addiction so they commit crimes, which affects the community.
The families of the addicts also experience emotional instability because of the habit of their beloved. It affects the addicts personally because they are labelled as social outcasts, and it affects their health since the drug is ultimately lethal.
I spend much of my time trying to get to know these addicts better, and to try and get better photographs every time I shoot.
What makes it difficult sometimes is that I work with different people, and it’s hard to approach them about what I am doing and to gain their trust. Sometimes I find it difficult to watch these beautiful people doing such an ugly thing.