The entrance to Block 4 of Matapi Flats in Mbare is reminiscent of a scene from a Hollywood post-apocalyptic movie.
Among the mounds of uncollected garbage is a muddle of empty bottles of hard liquor and illicit cough syrups and cigarette stubs.
A handful of children go about playing football on a dusty patch, apparently oblivious of their surroundings.
Giant colourful murals brighten up the walls of dilapidated apartment blocks that house hundreds of people who live and work in this populous suburb.
Right at the entrance of Block 4, a group of young people sit almost resignedly as they pass about among themselves tubes of glue, which they take turns to sniff.
Some are exchanging what appears to be all manner of illicit drugs, with no hint of trepidation of whether law-enforcement agents will bust their well-knit racket.
They all have their reasons for being there, but one thing unites them: apparent security from interference from the outside world, including the police.
Block 4 in Matapi — a run-down hostel apartment, which was gutted by fire some time ago — has become a popular centre for young people binging on illicit drugs.
It has become the epicentre of a raging drug epidemic bedevilling Mbare.
A video circulating on social media, showing an unidentified woman lamenting how drug cartels operating from this block “kidnapped” her daughter and got her hooked on drugs, laid bare the extent of the illicit narcotics menace in this part of the suburb.
“I live in Joburg Lines and my child went missing for weeks,” said the woman in the undated video.
“It was after spending a lot of time looking for her that we found her in a hostel near Matapi Clinic, where she was being kept by a gang of drug lords. She was wasted.
“We managed to take her out at night so that we would not be detected,” she said, claiming that no one is allowed to leave that building.
“What is happening inside that hostel is really sickening,” she lamented.
She said inside the building, drug gangs are staying with children, some as young as 13. An investigation by The Sunday Mail last week revealed that children of school-going age from as far as Epworth, Chitungwiza and Norton are reportedly residing in this block, where they freely indulge in drugs.
Inside this dingy block, suspected drug gangs are running thriving enterprises, where they take advantage of young children, including young girls, who are hooked on illicit narcotics.
Inside this block, it is only on the second floor where there appears to be signs of life.
Looking in from the outside, the floors appear decrepit, grim and dark.
Efforts to gain access into the building were rebuffed by a group of menacing-looking men who said entrance was prohibited.
Ms Ruramai Njereni, who stays in the same block, said children from as far as Epworth and Chitungwiza are staying inside the flat.
She said parents of some of the children often come to collect their children, who would have “disappeared” for weeks.
She said some children who have been reported missing could be in the hostels.
“If they are not being ƨǝxually abused, then who knows what else these children are going through?
“We don’t know why police are not coming to rescue these children.
“We have reported this to the local police but nothing has been done,” said Ms Njereni.
Others who spoke to this publication said drug cartels operating from the hostel have become a law upon themselves.
“Most of them come here vending and end up experimenting with drugs, and later, they are told that they cannot leave,” said one woman who refused to be identified. No one knows what happens inside the building.”
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said the authorities are aware of the video of the woman that is circulating on social media.
He urged parents to report such cases before resorting to social media.
“We are aware of the case and it is being investigated,” he said.
“That child was rescued with the assistance of police. We urge parents to monitor their children as we continue with the fight against drugs and substance abuse in the country. We want to assure the nation that the police will do whatever it takes to rescue and protect children from criminal elements.”
Tinevimbo Children’s Trust director Mr Enock Nyahukwa said children are a soft target for criminals.
“Crimes against children appear to be increasing in Zimbabwe judging by stories that we are reading in the press, and it is a worrying trend,” he said.
“Previously, cases of kidnappings of children by drug gangs were foreign to us.
“Parents should play a leading role in promoting the safety of their children.