Sunday June 26 marked National Substance Abuse Awareness Day. It’s a sobering thought that 15 percent of South Africa’s population have a drug problem, with the high level of drug abuse costing the country R20 billion a year, according to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics,
Communities across the Western Cape are battling with drug abuse and spiralling numbers of addiction, which has a knock-on effect on crime, the break-up and trauma in families and loss of income, as drug users succumb to their habit.
Karel (not his real name) who lives in Kraaifontein, started using drugs at the age of 22.
His story is a familiar testimony of a long battle to overcome addiction. He spoke to Northern News on condition of anonymity, claiming he was a high-profile gangster in the early part of the new millennium and spent 15 years addicted to all manner of drugs, from cocaine to tik and dagga and said he also abused alcohol.
“When I just started taking drugs, I decided to make my own stuff and mixed cocaine and bicarbonate of soda. After mixing it, I cooked it on the stove, let it cool and broke it into pieces and took it.
“At the time, it was such a nice feeling that overcame me. And I just couldn’t stop the habit. I lost everything – I stole so much from my home, anything to get my fix, from household appliances, food and eventually even the clothes off my back,” he told Northern News.
He said his next phase as an addict was when he became involved in gangsterism. “Then it was over to ecstasy and tik and you won’t believe how much we smoked.
“We’d hire hotel rooms and have all-nighters where we just didn’t stop. I got out of control, and my life was turning me into a monster. I continued, when I needed it, to steal from my home, even from my wife,” he said.
“But one day I decided enough is enough. And I managed to stop without any rehabilitation.
“My wife and my family said they would do everything and anything to help and support me, and I put my belief in God and prayed to him.”
He added, “The same night of that day I decided to stop. I still met my same crowd of friends and they begged me to take some ‘rock’. I said to them ‘I am done’.”
While strong withdrawal symptoms and a terrible craving for a “hit” persisted for many months, Karel said, “I turned my back on my drug friends and with a lot of belief I managed to break the habit. Eventually the urge to smoke or take a drug ceased and what I am saying is that with a lot of willpower a person can do it.
“I am thankful. I go to church a lot, I don’t touch alcohol; although I do smoke cigarettes and I have proved it is possible.”
Today Karel works in an organisation helping others conquer their drug habits and is active in the community. He has been “clean” for 11 years and said his message to others is “have belief in the power of your convictions and don’t be pressured by your peers.”
A mother who almost lost her son to drugs also spoke to Northern News on condition of anonymity and said she had to mortgage her house to place Alan (not his real name) in rehabilitation.
Mercia Steyn (not her real name), who lives in Brackenfell, said as a young widow, her son “floundered” when her husband was killed in a car crash eight years ago. He started using drugs in his early teens six years ago.
“Alan was taking all the heavy stuff, and it affected his heart. He also became aggressive and confrontational.
“One day, he got into a fight in a bar and when he got arrested, I decided I would do everything I could to get him back on the right path. So I borrowed money against my house bond. It was a lot of money but in the end it worked.
“Alan went to a rehab centre for a month. He left his girlfriend who was also into drugs and got a full-time job as an IT consultant. Today he is married, has a toddler daughter and has been promoted at his work.”
Samuel Dean runs the Yeshua Covenant Church and is also co-founder of the Standing Rock Rehabilitation Centre in Joostenberg Vlakte, together with the Gabriels family. Dozens of former drug users have passed through the centre’s doors and, according to Mr Dean, many have successfully gone through detox programmes and been reintegrated into the community.
He also offers counselling and comfort at his church, at the FF Erasmus Hall in Scottsville, where he encourages “troubled youth” to empower themselves by rejoining their communities.
“It’s a matter of relationship and trust,” he told Northern News, “and we are offering them the facility at the centre and the church to better themselves.”
At the rehab centre, boys from the age of 13 and adults up to 50 have been assisted with drug abuse and alcoholism.
Success stories include a woman of 40 who kicked the habit after 20 years and a young man who rejoined his community in Peerless Park, Kraaifontein, after joining the rehab centre.
Mr Dean offers a programme, “Life After Rehab”, and says his message to anyone who is on drugs or contemplating taking them is, “You must look at people. See people in the community and see those who have taken drugs. See, judge and then act. Is it good or is it bad? If you see how the families of drug abusers have been destroyed, along with their lives, then you should know it’s the wrong decision.”
Claude Julius, who lives in Kuils River, has been running the Kuils River Youth Development Centre for more than 10 years, says over the years he has seen an escalation of drug abuse and the difficulty many youngsters face when they become hooked.
“Once people are in that space, it is extremely difficult to get out of it. They start owing money and it becomes a bottomless pit, that goes on day and night.
“They think one hit, one puff, and after paying the dealers money, from there it becomes worse and worse. But from what I have seen and the people I have worked with, everyone is strong enough to stop. It’s up to the individual.
“It’s frightening to think that here (in the Western Cape) we are fighting chemical warfare as drug dealers fight over territory. We all need to play a part to stem it.”
* The National Substance Abuse Helpline is 0800 12 13 14. It is a 24/7 helpline and provides free telephonic counselling, information and referrals nationwide.