Empowering SA youth through education

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

By Lebohang Mhlongo

Midvaal – The youth of Sicelo in Midvaal Local Municipality, Gauteng, got a lesson in self-empowerment, while at the same time, learning about the dangers of substance abuse.

As June 26 marks the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the Department of Social Development -- in partnership with Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) and the Gauteng Premier’s Office -- embarked on a Youth Empowerment Expo on 18 June to celebrate the youth of 1976, who died in the Soweto Uprising.

The expo also raised awareness and educated the youth of Sicelo on issues surrounding substance abuse.

The International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking was declared in 1987 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. Since its inception in 1988, South Africa has joined the global community in celebrating the day.

The day serves as a reminder to all the members of the UN General Assembly of their commitment to create an international society free of drug abuse. It also aims to educate and raise awareness to society of the major problems related to drug abuse.

“Today we are here in Sicelo township [as Social Development] to celebrate Youth Month and also to educate and raise awareness in the community about drug abuse and prevention, especially amongst the youth,” said Malitaba Sootho, a representative of the Social Development Department in Gauteng.

Sootho was speaking at the expo held at the community hall in Sicelo Thusong Service Centre.

The hall was filled with exhibits from the Meyerton South African Police Service (SAPS) Youth Desk, South African National Council on Alcoholism (SANCA), Rosebank College and GCIS, which was there to offer its service, encouragement and information to the youth.

Changing attitudes

Maria Mazibuko, from the Meyerton SAPS, said according to their statistics, South Africa faces a huge problem with youth who are involved in substance abuse and crime.

“During our Siyabangena Project, which aimed to rid our community of drugs and alcohol by pouncing on shebeens that sell alcohol to young people as well as drug lords selling in the community, we were surprised at the amount of drugs we managed to confiscate in the Sicelo community alone.

“However, we also faced a challenge with commitment from the community as we were physically attacked with stones and bottles by community members for closing down a local shebeen that allowed young people to buy and consume alcohol on their premises.” 

Mazibuko urged unemployed youth to use their time wisely.

“[To the] youth that is sitting at home doing nothing, please I urge you to volunteer your time to a good cause. We have the SAPS Youth Desk that is in dire need of volunteers.”

She went on to ask parents to get involved, stating that the SAPS could only win the battle against drug abuse with the help of the community.

“We need you to be our eyes and ears, as we cannot do it alone. We need the community just as much as they need us.”

Putting education first

Ward 10 counsellor in Siceleo township, Ace Boland -- after recalling the struggles of the youth of 1976 -- encouraged the youth to take education seriously, as it is “the tool to sustaining the freedom that was so hardly fought for”.

Reiterating that the youth in South Africa today had more opportunities than the youth of 1976, Boland listed, amongst others, the right to education, which is included the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

“Our youth must not stand in the streets and smoke nyaope and drink alcohol. They must [rather] go to school to learn, so they can take this country forward.”  

Boland also reminded parents that “it takes a village to raise a child”. He said parents must teach children to be responsible and accountable.

The GCIS’s Thembi Matjokana also followed suit by encouraging the youth and community as a whole to use the resources made available to them to better their lives.

The drug ripple effect

Drugs have been identified as a barrier to education and youth development in South Africa.  According to a report released by the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) in June 2013, alcohol remains the most dominant substance of abuse across all sites, except in the Western Cape and the northern region.

Surveys conducted in a number of countries, including South Africa, have found that the abuse of substances is directly linked to high risk behaviour such as unprotected sex, violence and crime.

SANCA, established in 1956, is an organisation that provides a range of services to individuals, groups or communities suffering from addiction.

“[SANCA] offers help in the form of free treatment, support groups and prevention information to people who want to stop using drugs but cannot afford to pay for rehab,” said the organisation’s Zanele Yende.

She went on to encourage young people who are not using to stay away from drugs, as addiction is a chronic disease that can never be cured but can only be managed.

“Drugs are poisonous and victimise the user. The life of a recovering addict is painful because they have to constantly be on the look out and try to avoid triggers that could set them back on the road to addiction.”

The Youth Empowerment Expo has been through the rest of Gauteng, and it will end on Thursday, June 26 in the West Rand. – SAnews.gov.za

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