Moja Love’s (DStv 157) brand-new 13-episode reality series Ready To Quit brings hope where there was despair. Series host, ex-con and recovering addict Thabang Sefotho – now a life coach and founder of anti-drug organisation #Addiction Must Fall – is taking 15 people who’re addicted to heroin and nyaope (a street drug that blends low-grade heroin, cannabis, antiretroviral drugs and other substances) off the streets of Rustenburg in the Northwest Province, and giving them a second chance.
They’ll enter a rehab facility where, for 28 days, therapists, social workers, addiction counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists will guide them through a specially structured programme to help them shake their addictions and rediscover their potential. They’ll discuss their lives, how and why they started taking drugs, how their addiction has affected them, and we will see them start coming to terms with sober life. We’ll also meet their families as their therapists and social workers explore the underlying issues that left them vulnerable to addiction.
Nyaope addiction can take anyone down. Viewers will meet the likes of a former youth preacher, a nyaope seller and dealer who lost everything, two brothers who are dependent on each other, a former beauty queen and more. They all wound up leaving home and living desperately from hit to hit.
Series producer Kea Mokoena (daughter of the late and very much beloved actor Sandy Mokoena, best known to fans as Bra Eddie in local soapie Scandal!) says, “The series is not your stereotypical drug addiction series, but it portrays a realistic version of high-functioning addiction, the pain associated with it and destructive power it has on the addicts. Community members are fed up with nyaope addicts, and as a result, they have lost hope in them. To make matters worse, the outbreak of COVID-19 has exposed the rabid face of those addicted and highly dependent on this substance. We however believe everyone deserves a second chance in life and the necessary support to quit this drug.” Kea adds, “It shows that people can rule you out, but God does not rule you out. There is always a second chance. Always. And if this show gives them a second chance, I am happy to make many, many more seasons.”
But recovery from addiction is a long, tough road to walk. And that’s something that was echoed during the production process. Kea told us more about it.
Inside Ready To Quit with Kea
What was the spark that would grow one day into Ready To Quit?
Kea: I was filming the second part of a Lockdown Level 5 documentary. The streets were just so quiet. And as I was filming, I came across the nyaope guys. I started asking them about their survival strategy during the lockdown. As I was talking to them, they came in numbers and I thought maybe I could do a series. They kept saying, “We want to quit, we are tired.” So, I thought, why don’t I just do a show about nyaope people, a show that has relevance in South Africa? We’d take people who live on the street but who have homes. Because they’d tell me, “It’s not as if I don't have a home, I have a home but I don’t want to go home. I prefer the streets because of my bad habits.” And here we are! We’re shooting our last episode today and tomorrow, and because it’s the last day today I have 50 people from the surrounding area here who didn’t make it [onto the show]. And they're just asking, “When are you taking us to the rehab?”
What will Ready To Quit be about?
Kea: “It’s the first show of its kind where you just take these kids and you clean them up. We take them through a rehab process for 28 days. There’s an intense programme that they go through. Some fall out, others remain. There's the challenge of becoming sober, because they meet themselves for the first time in many, many years.
I am very serious about this. When my kids asked me where I was going, I said, “I am going to clean the streets of our country.” Because every life matters, and you get very talented people whose talents are just dilapidated because of their drug use. You get broken homes that need mending, but they’re never given a chance because people turn to drugs. It’s not a solution, it’s just a quick fix that messes up your life forever.
How did you select your 15 subjects for the show?
Kea: I wanted guys that wanted to go to the rehab. It had to be from them. Many times, we’d get a call from parents or a neighbour or a cousin that said, “I have someone in the house and this is what I wish for them.” But what makes this a unique programme is that it has to be from the addict. So, once they gave me their name and why they wanted to quit, I’d do my verifications by going home to their parents – because they have a home, nobody births themselves. Each and every person who is in the street has a mother, has a father, even if their parents are no more. There's a place that they can go back to when they die. There is a home that is going to claim their body. So, we went back to the home. And we said, “Do you know this person?” And when they said yes, they do, we’d ask them to tell us about this person. We tell them this is what this person is saying. And we’d ask, “Do you think he is ready to quit?” Two or three said, “No. I don’t think my kid is ready to quit.” And guess what? We got to the rehab centre and those people whose parents said that the change is going to be very difficult for this person, those are the kids we had the most problems with.
This time, unfortunately, I had to make the entry very strict because people take advantage. They think it’s going to be a holiday, but it’s hard. You want to give everybody a chance, but there has to be a willing soul, a willing personality, a willing character. Now I’m filming some of the guys who’ve actually made it through the rehab programme, and they’re saying, “It’s hard every day, but going back to the street and spending R40 just for a fix is something that I am not prepared to do.” Others backed out because they still want an easy life, the easy life being smoking, not bathing, pushing the trollies for the customers at the mall, the easy life. I was screening for this reason.
How did you select your rehab centre and get them to work with you?
Kea: I am using a presenter, Thabang, who is an ex-convict and an ex-drug user. What I like about this combination of having these nyaope people with him is that they gel very well. He’s been there. The language that they speak, he understands. When I was telling him about my plans, he told me, “I went to this rehab centre and I stayed there for 28 days and this is what I went through.” So, I went to them and I told them about what I am doing. Unfortunately they couldn’t give me 100% sponsorship, they couldn’t come onboard free because they are an NGO. They purely depend on funding. They said, “Okay, we’ll keep your guys. We don’t normally take 16 guys at a go, we normally take 5. This is a huge number, but we’re going to take the risk. We’re going to take them, house them, put them in the facility.”
Because it’s a drug and rehabilitation centre, they have enough beds to fit 15 to 25 people. So, they took them and they were brought medications according to their drug use, because some had been smoking longer than others. But it was our first time working with the centre, so they wanted 100% of their fees.
Tell us a little bit about the programme?
Kea: They went through programmes every day. You wake up at 7 o’clock, you bathe. And the first thing they teach you is about cleanliness. You cannot say you are leaving drugs without being clean. Because these nyaope people don’t bathe. They go 30-40 days without washing. I also went through a process with them before. I told them, “Before you guys go into the rehab centre, you need to get into my bath (because I hired a bath for them). You need to get into a bath and clean.” They shaved. And shame, they came out looking very smart. They made an effort. So, they went through the 28-day programme. They gave them the certificate, and every week they’d do what they call aftercare, where therapists would come and speak to them at home. I would also come and speak to them.
What were some of the biggest challenges?
Kea: My biggest challenge was getting them placements, like job placements, where somebody can take them and say, “Let me just have them for this month, let them acquire certain skills and let me pay them.” Of the 9 that completed the programme, 3 relapsed because they didn’t have anything to do. After a month of being restless, after a month of not doing anything just being at home – because remember, at home they are not used to them being sober, they are like a stranger, so you don’t know how to relate to them – if you don’t have something that is going to keep you busy, it’s not enough. Once a week aftercare with your therapist who comes to speak to you is not enough. We need to put you in some programme that is going to sustain you, that is going to make you forget where you come from. They’ve gone back on the streets. The girls have gone back to prostitution to feed their habit, and the guys have gone back to packing and pushing trollies for the customers at the mall. So, it’s very, very important after we've done the programme that we find them placements. Remember, we are cleaning the country. I can’t be cleaning and not put in the polish there.
What did you find toughest to get to grips with during the rehab process?
Kea: We had 15 people but 6 ran away while they were in rehab and we were filming. That is also part of the series. It’s important to show the viewer that we did not twist anything, all of this is organic. We saw on camera that they ran off. They jumped the wall, they went to get nyaope, and they smuggled it back into the centre. We did the drug tests on them the day that we were filming. We asked them why they did this and they said, “No actually, this programme does not work for us. We want to go home.” And we had an intense interview here. We asked, “Are you sure? Are you sure, are you sure? Because money was spent and that doesn’t mean that money is going to come back or that we are going to recoup it.”
And then 6 left and I was left with 9. Of course I knew I’d have minor challenges. But I didn't think the challenges would be people telling me going into the second week of rehab at the centre that, “You know what, my sister? Thank you so much for coming out and trying to help us. I want to leave.” The challenging thing is trying to make sense to a person who has made up their mind. And trying to make sense to somebody who you know needs help, and them telling you, “I don’t actually need this injection.”
What did you pick up when you were listening to the addicts’ families?
Kea: As they were going through rehab, we also needed to have counsellors and therapists and social workers speaking to their parents. It doesn’t help fixing the one hand and you don’t fix the other. With most of them, the base was that they were not from a concrete family background. Most of them were from a broken family. And when I say broken, I mean that with one of them the father committed suicide while he was watching. The other one met his mom for the first time when his mom was in a coffin. The other one, the parents died when they were 3 years old and they had to fend for themselves. The commonality was that they never had a family structure. And if you give a child freedom at a young age, they will never know what to do with it. We are being faced with such things as a country. It’s not only the 15 I had, it’s the country. It’s a problem that is beyond the areas of Gauteng and Polokwane.
Was there a common thread when the addicts discussed the first time that they took nyaope?
Kea: Influence. Most of them were in bad company. You know that thing of, “Let me just smoke cigarettes, I’m not going to be addicted.” And before you know it, you are in there. You are in with the crowd. Most of them were like, “I smoked because of my boyfriend”. “I smoked because of my friends”. “I smoked because my uncle used to smoke and I took it”. Being social is a trigger. When you see somebody that is drinking, you get inquisitive. As a child, you get very inquisitive and you want to try it. It’s so scary to think that one puff, you are down. That’s how scared I am of this.
What might you do differently in a second season?
Kea: This season, they didn’t come to me, I came to them once I verified with the parents. For the second season, I am going to make it slightly different. There is going to be a banner that goes out with our details and they’ll need to send me a story that tells me why they want to quit. I know there is a challenge in that most of these people do not have phones because they sell everything, every available thing that they have. But I will have a trained social worker and a therapist that I will be working with, so we’ll be able to pick up whether the person is ready or the person is just BSing. What people don’t understand is that it costs money, taking them to the rehab centre. Every little money that we get, we have to put it to our resources, production resources, on the rehab.”
Watch Ready To Quit S1 from Saturday, 5 December on Moja Love (DStv 157) at 20:30