Guest Column

Drug lords must face harsher punishments

2017-11-17 11:01
City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba. (Leon Sadiki, Gallo Images, City Press)

City of Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba. (Leon Sadiki, Gallo Images, City Press)

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Herman Mashaba

My nephew was a drug addict.

I am not going to find a soft, politically correct term for describing this battle. When we step away from words that say what they mean, we allow ourselves a comfortable distance from reality.

One should be uncomfortable with the term 'drug addiction' and its horrific consequences.

Addiction is not the addict's "fault". Drug addiction is compounded by a range of socio-economic, and sometimes emotional challenges faced by many.

These have been comprehensively documented and I need not further elucidate them here.

If we are going to arrest the misery that drug addiction inflicts on our residents, there has to be a multi-pronged approach to treat and support drug addicts and their families, and importantly, prevent drugs from swopping hands in our communities in the first place.

Let me first say, that in caring for those caught in the trap of addiction, families and communities can play a major role in the rehabilitation process.

The support of a community or family, no matter how battle-weary they are, cannot be emphasised enough. It is in this potentially supportive space where addicts can find the comfort they need to take the first steps to getting their lives on track.

I have witnessed how my own family's support of my nephew has made a tremendous impact to his slow climb out of the hole of addiction.

This said, wish as we might, addiction is not something one overcomes through sheer willpower and familial support alone – though these are important factors. As a City, we get this. The reality is our people need access to the medical and psychological support services in order to bring them back to full health.

For most, access to this care, often housed in drug rehabilitation centres, comes at a hefty price. This is why we are transforming the treatment of addiction within the city, by rolling out five free Local Drug Action Clinics (LDACs).

In no way am I saying that these clinics will be a silver bullet to drug addiction. However, the clinics will bring desperately needed care to our poorest communities and give them a chance at rehabilitating their lives.

I believe in putting money were my mouth is. Despite the City's limited resources, we have dedicated R26 million in the 2017-18 budget towards our drug strategy. Of this, R1.2 million is for brand new detox equipment, R210 000 for drug testing kits, and over R2 million for the soon to be launched 24-hour Crisis Line.

Included in this strategy is the cooperation of other city departments and entities and community groups, who will help drive the fight against drug abuse beyond our clinics and into communities.

In doing all this, we must not surrender our commitment to ridding Joburg's streets of criminals who peddle drugs to our children.

The Central Drug Authority of South Africa has established that overall substance abuse in our country is double that of the global average. In addition, we rank in the top 10 countries in terms of amount of alcohol consumed every year. Dagga, tik, and cocaine use is twice the average international consumption. These statistics equate to a social and economic cost of R130 billion per annum.

Further statistics reveal that children are becoming addicted from as early as 12 years old and that women who are addicted to drugs are 46% more likely to be victims of physical abuse and sexual abuse.

From the City's point of view, the process of ridding ourselves of the drug lords  – cutting off the snakes' heads if you will – draws on the skills and expertise of the City's JMPD, Forensic Investigations Department under General Shadrack Sibiya, and the Citizen Relationship and Urban Management Department. These organisations will regularly raid hijacked buildings, which serve as hubs for the illicit drug trade.

It is here where we will begin to smoke out drug dealers out of the nests they've created in our city.  In late 2016, I also launched the JMPD's specialised K-9 Narcotics Unit, specifically to fight drug lords in our city. Since November last year, over 200 people have been arrested for the possession of drugs, in addition to numerous other crime fighting initiatives.

To drug lords I say, we will not only find you, but we will also not rest until you face the full might of the law.

We cannot afford to do any less. The real cost of our failure to act will be residents' lives lost. I won't stand for it.

Indeed, I believe that these same drug lords ought to be facing hard labour under life sentences with, indeed, no possibility of parole. 

That is how seriously I take it, and I will be approaching members of national legislation to push for just that. 

Understand, I don't mean to support the kind of treatment dished out under apartheid within prisons. However, government must ensure that these criminals work to rebuild the communities that they sought to break.

This is why I also believe that we need to look into increasing policing capacity to fight drugs through specialised units working in communities, and having harsher sentences for drug dealers.

We need action that secures our porous borders and ports of entry, which have made South Africa a drug haven. Why are drugs so easily slipped in and out of our country?

Can we find better ways of working with our neighbours to fight drug trafficking?

I have witnessed families torn apart by drug addiction. I have seen families live in fear of rabid family members in need of their next fix.

I despise the harm that drugs inflict on our communities. This is why I aggressively support increasing penalties for drug dealers killing our communities.

Ultimately, national government must take action on this. As a City, we will do our part. Our children's drug-free future depends upon it.

- Herman Mashaba is Executive Mayor for the City of Johannesburg.

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Read more on:    johannesburg  |  crime  |  drug abuse  |  drug addiction

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