Drug War Needs You

It will take sustained community involvement to defeat the narcotics business, says Yusuf Abramjee.

Johannesburg - Today marks International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. It is also a year since LeadSA and Crime Line launched the Drug Watch campaign in Gauteng.

About 30 000 suspects were arrested and millions of rand worth of drugs were seized by the police. Despite numerous calls on the Justice Department, the conviction rate of these arrests is still unknown.

Initiatives aimed at curbing the trafficking and manufacturing of illicit drugs should be escalated with urgency.

At the same time, investment into rehabilitation and counselling should be revitalised. The reality is we are losing the war on drugs.

The consequences of drug abuse on communities are devastating. Cape Town communities are at war as gangsterism and drug trafficking continue to escalate. Last weekend, 16-year-old Annestley Hartnick was shot several times in front of his home in Tafelsig by members of a gang – another casualty of gang rivalry.

Residents have warned they will take the law into their own hands. This is something we can’t afford. No corner of South Africa is immune to the drug plague.

Meanwhile, in Eldorado Park outside Joburg, the drug situation is apparently again out of control. This is despite President Jacob Zuma’s intervention in the area following a compelling letter from a mother, Dereleen James, pleading for help in the drug-ridden area.

I attended a meeting in Eldorado Park recently with Gauteng Community Policing board chairman Andy Mashaile and senior police officials. Community leaders claim that despite interventions, it is business as usual for drug dealers.

Parents in this area are desperate. James, who founded the Sharing Without Shame initiative, is testament to the sacrifices the community has made and despite this, all indications are that the problem is worse than before.

Pointing fingers will not achieve anything, but Eldorado Park as a case study shows we are not equipped to deal with the drug problem holistically.

Long-term and sustainable interventions are what we need.

When I visited a school west of Pretoria recently, I asked pupils how many of them had experimented with drugs and alcohol. Half of the school’s hands went up. I was shocked.

Gauteng MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi was equally shocked and has vowed to root out the top 10 gangsters operating in schools.

It is, however, clear that schools are easy targets for syndicates and many have become havens for dealers and addicts.

There is a common belief that only poor communities are affected. The reality is quite different. I’ve met children from upper- and middle-class families experimenting with and abusing drugs.

The war on drugs is not as simple as just locking up drug dealers. It is a multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-faceted solution.

The Justice Department needs to take the lead and ensure not only dealers, but the kingpins and manufacturers, are convicted and severely punished.

There have been discussions happening in the country regarding the legalisation of drugs. I do not know if this is the answer, but are we having the right discussions to determine the veracity of claims that it will significantly reduce the drug problem?

Headlines were recently made in the UK when a mother called for the legalisation of recreational drugs. Her 15-year-old daughter suffered cardiac arrest last year after taking 0.5mg of ecstasy.

The mother believes that by lifting the prohibition, it will ensure health professionals and not dealers are in control of drugs.

Back home, there is a bill before Parliament seeking the legalisation of dagga.

The time of the whistle-blower is here. It is going to be interesting to see how this debate unfolds.

More and more, we are seeing ordinary citizens from across the world playing a more active role in the issues that affect them.

Whether they are actively trying to change legislation, patrolling their neighbourhood or blowing the whistle on criminal activities in their communities, the change is coming from the bottom up.

This groundswell of growing active citizenship is not going unnoticed.

The police are counting more and more on information from the public. This is becoming a global phenomenon and for us, commonplace.

In October, South Africa is hosting the first Crime Stoppers International Conference on African soil. The conference, which is open to the public, will be held in Cape Town from October 12 to 15.

Drug trafficking is one of the topics that will receive considerable attention, including the issue of legalisation. The Mexican cartels, gangsterism and what the rest of the world is doing to combat drug trafficking will also be explored. South Africa has to be part of this discussion and I truly think we have a contribution to make.

I was impressed to learn about the shot spot technology that will soon be tested in Cape Town.

This detection system will be able to triangulate the location of a gunshot.

If successful, it will definitely assist the police in tackling the problem with gangs.

We certainly look forward to engaging with the international community on crime. The best part is that this conference is open to everyone – all who have an interest in crime prevention.

Earlier this week, The Star published an editorial on drug smuggling through OR Tambo International Airport. It has become such a common occurrence that 40kg of seized cocaine hardly made the news.

It speaks volumes of the apparent ease with which drugs are being smuggled into the country.

As the editorial points out, we are ill equipped to stop the trafficking of drugs into the country.

It also reminds us that we can no longer talk about crime in isolation.

The world is at war with drugs, but it’s not just a war for law enforcement and legislators. It is everyone’s war.

We cannot sit back and watch the drug dealers and manufacturers ruin lives. It is up to each and every one one of us to be an active citizen and lead our country.

** Yusuf Abramjee is a LeadSA activist and the head of Crime Line.

The Star