Guest Column

There's another city with a drug problem

2017-02-23 11:55
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Mondli Zondo

While everyone's been focussing on the drug problem in Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and other parts of the KwaZulu-Natal have been facing increasing levels of drug addiction, particularly amongst young people.

According to the South African National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, ‘whoonga’ is the new drug of choice in these parts.

Whoonga is a concoction of various things like rat poison, dagga and anti-retrovirals and this deadly cocktail costs only R15 to R20. The Pietermaritzburg CBD is littered with whoonga addicts, with shop owners and patrons operating in fear as these youngsters will do anything to get their next fix.

Last week, the nation was stunned when a Sunday Times report revealed a ‘bluetooth’ drug craze where Nyaope addicts share blood in order to get high. 

The situation has clearly gone beyond crisis levels and we need to act with greater urgency and conviction when confronting it.

First, we must all understand that government cannot face this fight alone. If the war against drug addictions is to be won, then a whole of society approach is needed and each of us has to play our part.

However, government has a major role to play in allocating resources and in providing the structural support communities need. Government has to acknowledge the role played by NGOs and NPOs in providing services in places where government intervention isn’t present.
Over the past months, a number of these organisations around the province have had to close down as a result of poor financial support and while another sizeable number struggles to register their organisations and therefore cannot provide services. Such organisations are often located in or close to communities and can be the first place an addict turns to if they want help.

Government must provide financial support but must also make certain that these centres are capacitated to deal with walk-in addicts seeking help. The centres must be able to account for every cent they receive from the public purse as well as reporting regularly on their success rate in treating addicts.

Such centres however are useless if the public does not know they exist or what their functions are. Therefore a public awareness campaign is needed and this should be ongoing. Families and communities should understand that an addiction is not a crime; it is an illness and that help exists for those who want it. 

According to the KwaZulu-Natal department of social development’s 2015/16 annual report, there were only 1 321 drug users who accessed in-patient services at funded treatment centres. Out-patient based services accounted for 1 477. There is a stigma attached to drug addiction and these low numbers place a mandate on us to educate each other about treatment initiatives and to support users who enter these programmes.

Communities also need to be supported by the law and the criminal justice system. 
Ward committees exist to enable communities to engage with their local government on issues concerning them and I believe drug abuse is one such issue for people across the province. Such structures can be a valuable platform for communities to identify children showing signs of addiction, to bring this to the attention of their municipality and to provide such children with assistance. 

These committees should be empowered to work together with the department of community safety in its Schools Safety Committee Programme. This programme links schools with police stations and ward committees should take advantage of this to identify children who are using and selling drugs. We must understand that the purpose of this approach is not to punish these children but it is to rehabilitate them.  

Finally, it is up to all of us to get drugs off our streets. As communities, we live with and know the people who produce and sell drugs like whoonga. We often turn a blind eye to this activity until it involves someone living under our own roof. We must save our children by encouraging and developing a culture of whistle-blowing.

I understand there is fear of speaking out as people naturally do not want to face the wrath of drug users and producers alike. Our police therefore need to be ready to receive whistleblowers and most importantly they must not disclose their identity. If this level of trust and confidence in our police is not established then we cannot realistically hope to rid our province of drugs. 

- Mondli Zondo is a Mandela Washington Fellow, President Barack Obama’s initiative for young African leaders. He is currently the director of legislative research for the National Freedom Party in the Kwazulu-Natal Provincial Legislature and he writes in his personal capacity.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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