The F-word: For the poor, drug dangers are real

2013-06-04 10:00

It was inevitable that President Jacob Zuma’s visit to Eldorado Park, south of Joburg, would be denounced by his detractors as no more than early electioneering.

As a seasoned politician, I am sure the president accepts that in politics, such a reaction is an occupational hazard he must just deal with.

Whatever his intentions might have been, it must have been important for the people of Eldos to get a sense that the state feels their pain.

Nobody ever questions the motivation of a doctor who helps his patient achieve health, even if the fellow’s reasons for choosing medicine were to make money.

The state must not be paralysed and unhelpful towards its citizens for fear that opposition parties and political commentators might be cynical about its motives.

For many South Africans, drugs and their effects pose a far greater threat to the feelings of safety and security than a terrorist army.

One might never have touched a drug in one’s life but that does not spare one from finding oneself suffering as collateral damage in the enterprise between drug dealers and users.

The habit-forming properties of drugs often cause their users to turn to crime or sell their bodies for sex to support their addiction, making non-users and the loved ones of drug dealers victims of factors over which they have no control.

Community members live with the ever present danger of a youngster high on nyaope, tik, woonga or any other drug of whatever name robbing or raping them.

Still, the solution cannot just be about arresting criminals and closing down houses of ill repute.

Drug wars are proxy wars for a deeper rooted wrong. It is no coincidence that the most visible effects of drug abuse tend to be most rife in the poorest communities.

Of course, the wealthy also use drugs, but one hardly ever picks up the bodies of gang-related and drug-induced street murders on the tree lined streets of Bryanston or Constantia.

The state cannot solve the hopelessness that comes with poor education and economic opportunities by incarcerating those who are merely taking advantage of the gaps in our social structure.

In many ways, drug dealers are in this regard no different from the religious outfits that spring up from time to time in communities that are crying out for a saviour or a way out of their lived reality.

Such communities will do anything for what they perceive as an opportunity and because of this, are sitting ducks for quacks abusing a name of a god to milk the poor and the hopeless.

Intervention by the state must address both the symptom and the disease.

To do this, it requires that state organisations are honest about the causes of the illness and whether they are doing enough to tackle the problem at its very root.

It also requires that apartheid denialists and the “get over it” brigade appreciate that the legacy of apartheid has created a multigenerational curse that requires hard work and a willingness by all to provide opportunities to break the cycle.

Equally important from the perspective of criminal justice, South Africans need to work harder at rehabilitating themselves from the addiction to materialism and immediate gratification as a long-term method to fight drug abuse and the drug trade.

Drug dealers and pushers are in the same bind. Both depend on a bunch of chemicals to sustain their feeling of self-worth.

For drug dealers, the money they make from their genocidal practices makes them feel important because they are able to afford homes in exclusive neighbourhoods and send their children to high-end schools.

Like their customers, they live in a bubble of make believe, the only difference being that their drug and controller is money, while their clients make do with chemical comfort for their bodies.

» Follow me on Twitter @fikelelo

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