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BY RUTH KEDIKILWE
The Telegraph caught up with an outspoken, flamboyant anti-drug use ambassador in 31-year-old Tumelo Sengawane, who for the past few years, took a bold and active decision to quit drugs, alcohol and cigarettes.
He did not only beat these potentially lethal addictions but went on set up an non-governmental organisation (NGO) to use his past mistakes as learning blocks for both adults and youth alike for them to avoid falling into the trap.
The streets have named him Tutsana and he speaks openly about his drug abuse and incarceration for a felony he committed whilst under the influence one night whilst they were wilding out.
The crime, ‘Grievous bodily harm,’ landed him in prison for a whole year and two months which ironically became his saving grace because not only were there no drugs available to him in prison he used this time to introspect and question the choices he had in his life thus far.
Whilst in prison his friends kept him informed of how the drug problem was spiraling out of control and how most of their friends were now fully blown addicts to a point where they lived in crack-houses just to secure their next fix. The very same friends on his first day as a free man whipped out a whole cocktail of an assortment of hard drugs which he refused to take as he was committed to being drug free. “They all said to me that I was still scared and it wear off soon and some even offered me consignment to start selling till I got back on my feet,” said Tutsana with a chuckle, an offer which he blatantly refused.
Tutsana explained: “To put my plan of starting the staying sober campaign in motion I made weekly entries on Facebook regarding how bad drugs are and ultimately birthed the ‘Drugs are not cool’ movement. I met up with friends during outing who were aware of my Facebook posts who encouraged me to start something g more tangible in order to help more people.”
The following and interactions continued to exponentially increase and Tutsana got more main stream media exposure and in 2017 he registered the ‘Drug Free is the New Cool’ Organization. This organization was set up to mainly do school interventions to encourage children not to start doing drugs not forgetting the drug users to encourage them to opt for an alternate lifestyle which does not involve inhaling, smoking or taking narcotics intravenously to get a high.
“During this time though I had quit the hard drugs I was still battling with my smoking and drinking habits and I made a deal with one of my crack using clients that if he stopped smoking crack I would stop smoking cigarettes, a habit I had picked up 15 years ago,” said Tutsana.
He thought it came across as hypocritical to be advocating for sobriety whilst he was still indulging so he went on a 4 month long alcohol and cigarette embargo and has not touched a cigarette since then.
With smoking out the door, Tutsana is proud to announce that he since had his last drink three months ago citing that looking back, he now realizes that alcohol and cigarettes are indeed the ‘Gateway drugs.’ Tutsana pauses for a bit whilst reminiscing and says, “ I was a lot happier before all the drinking and smoking, they take a toll on your body, they have no positive contribution to one’s life except a series of bad decisions and missed opportunities that go by whilst you were drunk or hung-over.”
He recalls the endless near death experiences, the many violent escapades and admits that everything bad that has happened to him was because of the use of drugs and drinking alcohol.
Since quitting the three demons (drugs, alcohol and smoking) Tutsana claims to feel more rejuvenated and energetic than before, “I am more energetic, I have a sharper mind, I am committed to doing more work and even when I do not have a car I am able to maneuver my way around taxis and if push comes to shove I will walk to where ever I have to be with no struggles,” he says. He jokingly says that whilst using his complexion was not as glowing as it is now and the one this he is the most ashamed of is his temperament which often led to rash decisions and how he became notorious for having the violent streak of European soccer hooligan.
Of all the positive outcomes from living a clean and sober lifestyle, his favorite is how it has mended his relationship with family. Tutsana stated that during his days as a user, he would hear his little sister and mother pray for him to change his way, in his own high mind he felt that they were being dramatic and that he was just living his best life. Since sobering up and seeking spiritual cleansing by going to church his mother is one happy lady and making up for his failed opportunities, “I cannot handle the club life anymore, I find it extremely trivial and I am making more time for my family and work,” he says.
Tutsana claims to now have a different perspective and purpose in life, that people now look up to him and he has influenced many to now go clean. Despite all these milestones Tutsana explained that it is imperative to accept that he lives with an addiction and can be entices to fall off the wagon, he just needs to avoid feeding into that addiction. As a recovering user one must also expect to lose friends to which Tutsana says, “It is better than holding on to baggage that will hinder your progress.”
Tutsana’s organization has since partnered with different stake holders to come up with drug identification guide to be used at the work place, schools and homes to help identify users and ultimately seek recourse to rehabilitate them. They also brand cool fashionable merchandise which resonates well with the youth and hope to use it to attain their theme which is ‘A Drug Free Nation.’
According to Tutsana prior to the influx of drug use in Botswana there was less violence, robbery and crime in general, drug users are quick to resort to violence and will steal stuff to sell to feed their addiction.
The most challenging aspect of running the organization according to Tutsana is that when looking for sponsors and partnership people are quick to question the government’s input into the projects. He cites bureaucracy and the lack of autonomy that comes with relying solely on government grants.
“You will be famous for being a heavy drinker, being referred to as the ‘last man standing’ while in actual fact they are laughing at you on the sidelines for having accomplished absolutely nothing other than being the champion drinker,” said Tutsana, “I want to be something bigger than this.”