“Bronco”, Zimbabwe’s syrupy, cheap high

A prescription cough syrup, containing codeine and used to treat bronchitis, has become the drug of choice for Zimbabwe’s urban youth and local music stars. Although the thick, bitter syrup is usually recommended for use by the teaspoon, users swig it straight from the bottle, together with other drugs or alcohol, to achieve a sensational high.

Bronco abuse can lead to respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, depression, constipation and digestive problems and, although the Zimbabwean government has banned its import and distribution, it is still peddled on the streets for as little as $3.

FARAI MUZENDA*, a 22-year-old technical college student and bronco user, told the Tendai Marima about his experience with the prescription medication.

It’s not for babies, bronco is for us the strong ones. If you just drink enough of it you’ll get so high. It’s better than smoking weed or drinking – you feel like you’re in another world; your mind moves so fast that your body can’t even catch up.

I started taking bronco in 2009 when I was still in high school and I haven’t stopped. I don’t drink, I just take bronco or histalix and weed. It’s a good mix. I can get a small bottle, 100 ml, for $3, and weed is just $1. Histalix is more expensive, it’s $8 for 100ml, but I can buy it anywhere and I only need one bottle: it’s not like beers where you need so many dops it ends up being expensive.

Bronco helps to pass the time here in Bulawayo. I’m from Harare and I came here after school to attend college. I live with my uncle.

This place is so small and boring, especially when we’re on holiday from college so I need to find my fun somewhere. Me and my boys we all take it, we hang out and smoke, some guys drink alcohol, but we all take bronco; it makes the highs so much better.

They say it has side effects, but I’m not worried.

But my friend Sku, his little brother got sick. He’s about 19 and last year in June he had a stomach operation at United Bulawayo Hospital (UBH) because he had lumps in his stomach. Bronco doesn’t really dissolve in your system, so if you drink a lot of it you can get hard balls in your stomach and they’re painful.

Thabs needed an op to get them out. He’s okay now, but he’s back on bronco. How can he stop? The guy’s not scared of anything; he does everything.

He keeps a full box of 36 bottles by his bedside; Sku has his bottles too so they’re always loaded. Me, I’m still at college and whenever I get money I buy a few bottles. Sometimes I ask my people at UBH to get me a prescription for a good cough syrup then I can hustle and get it from the pharmacy, but if I can’t I know where to go. You can buy bronco anywhere, anytime in the ghetto.

– As told to Tendai Marima.
– All images by Tendai Marima.
*Name has been changed.

Tendai Marima profileTendai Marima is freelance journalist and researcher, follow her on Twitter.