President Jacob Zuma said he was shocked by the rapid increase in substance abuse in South Africa over the last 10 years and declared his government’s intentions to fight the scourge at the Second Biennial Summit on Substance Abuse held in Durban recently.
The summit, hosted by the Department of Social Development and the Central Drug Authority, ran from 15 to 17 March 2011 as a follow-up to the first event held in 2007. The theme for this year is An Integrated Approach: Towards a Drug-Free Society.
Zuma said the government would be working on creating awareness and education programmes for communities around the country. He said they would also be intensifying policing and law enforcement against drug traffickers.
“This is aimed at curbing the problem and at helping to improve treatment for addicts and support provided to affected families,” he said.
The president urged the police to be tough on drug dealers and pleaded with people living in areas where substance abuse is rife to work with the police and provide information on any illegal dealings within the community.
“The fight against substance abuse is a key aspect of promoting social cohesion and stable communities,” he added.
According to the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use, there is an increasing number of young patients who are being admitted to rehabilitation centres around the country for alcohol and drug-related problems.
Zuma said the government would be reviving campaigns involving young adults and school pupils. These campaigns will be about how to deal with the crisis and provide information on how to get help for those struggling with or affected by substance abuse.
The president also called on the private sector and business to get involved in campaigns, as they can play an important role in communities’ fight against substance abuse.
In South Africa, alcohol is the most abused substance followed by marijuana – known locally as dagga. Zuma said he was shocked to learn of the pain many families go through due to substance abuse. “We do not want this scourge to destabilise our nation,” he added.
Tamiel Singh from Howick West, a small suburb in KwaZulu-Natal, said she is concerned by the growing number of school-going children who are dropping out of school due to drug and alcohol abuse in her community. “Children as young as 10 are found with drugs or are drunk at schools – they end up being expelled and stay at home with no future.”
Singh said she worries that drugs and alcohol seem to be too easily accessible to young people. “I don’t know where these kids buy the stuff, but they seem to get it hassle-free. No-one seems to care that it’s a child in uniform they are selling drugs or alcohol to. They just care about the money and not the child’s future.”
She said she would heed the call by the president to work together with the police to root out substance abuse in her community.
“As the community, we always know where the kids are buying alcohol and drugs, and who is selling it to them. Without our help, the police might never find the culprits because they don’t live here, they don’t know the ins and outs of the people of this community, we do. It starts with us, we have to get up and help clean up this community.”
More needs to be done at schools to check that children do not carry drugs, and routine tests should be done on pupils to ensure they are not intoxicated, advises Thandeka Langa from Durban.
“Children are selling drugs to each other and experimenting with them at school. We need to strengthen our focus on teaching children the need to report substance abuse by their peers. We need to teach them to do this to save themselves and their friends from the disruption and darkness of addiction and the sordid world of crime.”
Langa said she hopes schools and communities will rise to the challenge and help the government by reporting any illegal drug and alcohol activity taking place in their schools or neighbourhoods. “I really hope people stand up against those destroying our communities and our children.”