Saving young lives from substance abuse

By Gabi Khumalo

The sight of young people spending the entire day sharing drugs in street corners, whilst others drink alcohol at nearby shebeens and taverns was greatly disturbing for Algino Nelson.

The young activist from a small Eastern Cape town knew he had to do something. He had seen peoples’ lives being destroyed by substance abuse.

Instead of enjoying time with friends, the 22-year-old Nelson from Ramaphosa Village in Patensie decided to respond to government’s call for communities to assist in the fight against social ills, which affects the nation.

Nelson has started an awareness campaign against alcohol and substance abuse, targeting local primary and high school learners.

Through the campaign, he dedicates his time visiting local schools, where he runs educational workshops on the effects of drug abuse and encourages learners to take part in extracurricular activities.

During the State of the Nation Address in February, President Jacob Zuma highlighted the issue of drug and substance abuse and said government was working with society to fight this scourge.

“From Soshanguve to Rosettenville or KwaMashu to the Cape Flats, communities are in difficulty because of drug abuse. Other than law enforcement, the provision of treatment and prevention services is also critical,” he said.

The President said the Department of Social Development is building new public treatment centres in provinces where there are no such facilities such as the Northern Cape, North West, Limpopo, Free State and the Eastern Cape.

The campaign by Nelson is a direct response to the President’s pleas. It also targets young and unemployed youth, who drop out of school due to substance abuse. Nelson invites the youth to join community based organisations and take part in community activities, including clean-up campaigns and projects aimed at fighting poverty. These, he says, give them a sense of belonging.

Nelson believes that while teenage pregnancy and drug abuse are the main challenges facing young people in his community, he believes that the youth have a potential to turn their lives around, and the only thing they need is someone to push them in the right direction.

“They have power to change the current status of our community, so that they can also be able to reach their full potential in life. Participating in sports and extracurricular activities keeps them away from the streets and out of trouble. A number of talents could also be discovered through this initiative,” Nelson says.

Nelson also uses door to door campaigns, where he shares with parents and grandparents information on how to recognise symptoms of drug abuse.

“While engaging with young people, it is also important to communicate the same message with people they stay with….teach them how to recognise the symptoms and how to react when they discover that their children use drugs.

“My wish is for the community to get a rehabilitation centre, where drug abusers can be able to get professional help, as well as a community centre where young people go for skills development training and have access to information on available jobs.”

Substance abuse continues to ravage families

Studies show that between 7, 5% and 31% of South Africans have an alcohol problem or are at risk. On drugs, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report of 2014 shows that more than 270 000 South African citizens were defined as problem drug users.

A report from the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use also indicates that young people from the ages of 10 to 39 received treatment between January and June 2015.  

South Africa implemented the National Drug Master Plan (2013 – 2017), following its approval by Cabinet on 26 June 2013.

The Master Plan serves as the country’s blueprint for preventing and reducing alcohol and substance abuse and its associated social and economic consequences on South African society.

The key outcomes of the five year National Drug Master Plan are reduction of the bio-socio-economic impact of substance abuse and related illnesses on the South African population.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini has said that the plan is intended to help realise the vision of a society free of substance abuse so that more attention can be focused on raising the quality of life of the poor and vulnerable and of developing the people to achieve their true potential.  – SAnews.gov.za