wellconalhillAND DEATH. The first promise of Utopia comes in the form of a little pink pill, called Wellconal (or, more appropriately, “pinks”), which is crushed, diluted and injected.

Top 40 Magazine- June 1992 by Sandy Lofthouse.

Many of the girls are 14 when they take to the streets – the drug addiction is what gets them there, what keeps them there and ultimately what will probably kill them.

They could die from their addictions, by murder of from AIDS, which some of them pass on knowingly to ignorant customers. SANDY LOFTHOUSE talks to one man involved in an unending battle to reverse the process.

If you’ve taken a drive through Hillbrow on any given night, you’ll have seen them. Young girls decorating the shadows, approaching slowing cars, tentatively selling their bodily wares. If you weren’t a prospective client, you would probably shake your head and drive away in disgust.

If you’d looked closer, you might have seen the reality. The glazed eyes and vacant stares, the excruciatingly thin bodies and the multiple punctures in their veins. Victims of their own misdeeds, you might say, suffering the consequences of their own choices.

“Not so,” says Jean du Plessis, a worker at The House, an institution established to help these girls. “They’re the victims of society, caught up in a sub-culture they’re powerless to resist.”

Most of the girls start their lives on the street between the ages of 12 to 15. Just stepping on puberty, they’re at a vulnerable age, when the world can be frustrating and heartbreaking place.

The majority are seduced by promises of escapism, made to them in nightclubs by vultures who are very wise to their prey. These “pimps”, as they later become, know exactly which girls will take the bait.

“It’s usually the ones who are having trouble at home,” Jean points out. “They can come from any background, and it’s not usually the very poor homes. Most are from A and B income groups.”

The first promise of Utopia comes in the form of a little pink pill, called Wellconal (or, more appropriately, “pinks”), which is crushed, diluted and injected. Unfortunately, the euphoria it offers is short-lived, and the hell that follows afterwards is far worse than anything they have experienced before.

The only solution is another shot, and then another and then … They’re hooked effectively after the first shot, but Jean says, “It usually takes five times until they’re physically addicted, and then their body starts craving it.”

Soon, one or two is not enough to satisfy the craving, and they find themselves shooting up to two to four tablets at a time, two to four times a day. A teenager can find herself spending R150 to R400 a day.

As the pimp is now totally in control of her highs and lows, he spends his time taking control of her emotions, until she is totally and utterly dependent on him. By this time, the drug will have been at work on her cerebellum – the part of her brain that controls the senses of cleanliness and the survival instinct. Prostituting herself no longer seems such a big issue – especially if it means money to support her habit.

Wellconal has become the false god she lives and often dies for – what happens in between is merely routine. A quick blow-job here, a jump in the sack there, or whatever else the customer may require. A rape with abottle perhaps? It’s all in a day’s work.

When the girls talk about their experiences it’s coldly and without feeling. Even when describing how she was cut with a scalpel while a man raped her, she shows no emotion. “This is because of Wellconal,” Jean explains. “As it’s a painkiller, it deadens all other feeling. That’s why you can see them walking the streets in the middle of winter with almost nothing on. They don’t feel the cold.”

The absence of pain is just one of the side effects of Wellconal. AS it’s chalk-based, when injected into their veins, it invariably clogs their arteries and their veins also disappear. They end up spiking into the groin, because there’s a major vein there. It’s about 2cm deep, and they have to go in at a 90 degree angle to get to it, resulting in septic groins, eventually leading to thrombosis. The minute this dislodges, all the chalk goes directly to the heart, which corrodes the heart valves, causing endocarthritis, a mould which grows on the heart valve.

This gives of toxins into the whole body until all the organs are affected, resulting in death. Jean explains that the whole process takes as little as four years. During the year in which The House has been open, 17 girls have died from such causes.


Another threat waling the streets is AIDS. Jean confirms that some girls do have the disease, but they don’t usually last very long. Dirty needles give rise to diseases like Hepatitis B, which kills off any AIDS sufferer very quickly.

Withdrawal from Wellconal is not an easy process and SANCA boasts a success rate which is a low as two percent. Wellconal addicts going through withdrawal will find their minds playing games on them before their bodies go into the painful physiological withdrawal.

They’ve been injecting far more than the maximum Wellconal dose, which is one tablet taken orally three times a day, and their bodies have become used to total overdose, and no longer manufactures its own endomorphins – which are the body’s natural painkillers.

The physical withdrawal usually takes from 10 to 14 days, during which they can’t sleep or even get out of bed, every movement being too painful. Helping an addict over an addiction takes time, patience and money, which is where Jean and the other members of The House come in.

Jean points out that there are so few places for these girls to go once they have decided that they want to stop the habit. Magaliesoord, an institution to help drug addicts, can usually only offer beds after a three-week waiting period. SANCA offers an outpatient clinic service, but not the 24-hour attention a recovering addict needs, and of the dealer is only a block away, whereas SANCA is ten blocks away …

The House has been going for over a year now, and concentrates heavily on helping prostitute girls get over drug addictions and to rehabilitate. They also intervene and help in cases where girls have been arrested by the police.

“It isn’t easy to convict a prostitute or drug addict,” says Jean. “But once they have been arrested they can sit in the cells for months. We try to help the ones under 17.” Ultimately Jean says, The House would like to open a kibbutz type of dwelling somewhere in the country, where they could send the girls to reconstruct their personalities and help them overcome the addiction.

“It is too difficult to help them here,” he says, “because there are too many
temptations and reminders of their life.”


All the time the pimp waits, using any opportunity to put his bread and butter back on the streets. He’s losing up to R15 000 a month, which is what the girls average, although they never really get to see it, it passes through their hands so quickly. Most of them can only just afford the R50 per day it costs to stay in the cheap hotels.

One of Jean’s more recent cases involved a girl from Houghton, the daughter of millionaire parents. She’d been in the game since she was 14. When she came to The House at the age of 19, she was 1,9 metres and weighed only 31 kg. She managed to pick up 6kgs, but the call of her pimp proved too strong and soon she was back on the street. “You’re a whore now,” he told her, “No one will ever love you except

Jean has accepted that not every case is a success, but he’s not about to give up. “I don’t believe that society has a duty to look after these prostitutes or drug addicts,” he says, “but if a kid is 12 years old and, because of a lack of something at home, she made a stupid decision and got addicted, it’s a juvenile decision and society owes her something. It should protect its youth, not exploit them.”

The girls are trapped in a system beyond their control. Their only hope lies with people like Jean and his co-workers at The House, who are prepared to look beyond the obvious and see them for what they are – not rich nymphomaniacs with a passion for their jobs, but frightened teenagers living each day the only way they know how. One wonders how many of them ever think: “If only …”

Scanned and Prepared by

Adéle du Plessis

The House Group

Saving the girl child from the street

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