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Johannesburg - Drug lords have found a market in Gauteng primary schools and are selling drugs to children as young as eight.
Their young clientele use dagga and nyaope and also move on to other drugs and alcohol.
This is according to the police and community police forums, who say the use of drugs among Gauteng children is a huge problem and that drug users are becoming younger and younger.
Andy Mashaile, chairman of the Gauteng Community Police Forum Board, said he was saddened when, during a Women’s Day function in Orlando, Soweto, he heard stories of druglords in the area selling nyaope to eight-year-old pupils through school fences.
The young customers were both boys and girls, Mashaile said.
What was more shocking, he said, was the fact that while some people who sold food to schoolchildren at schools were genuine, some had been found to have been drug dealers masquerading as food sellers.
“Once they sell to eight-year-olds, you know that those children will now live a life of crime to feed their habit.
“Even the fights that happen at schools happen because the children are drug crazy.
“And Tshwane has a huge problem of young people who are nyaope addicts,” Mashaile said.
Police realised just how problematic the issue of drug use in children was last year when police commissioner Lieutenant-General Mzwandile Petros visited one of Gauteng’s more affluent areas.
Both teachers and pupils in the area expressed concern at the young ages of the users, but school principals did not want to believe there was a problem, Brigadier Neville Malila said. The reason, he said, could be attempts to protect the good name of their school.
Mashaile agreed. “What I have picked up from the more affluent schools is that they don’t want to talk about the problem of drugs in schools. They are scared that parents won’t send their children there. And in some schools they don’t want the police to come unannounced to do raids; they want to be informed first.”
Malila said the drugs available in and around the schools were a reflection of the drugs available in those communities.
“The more sophisticated and expensive drugs are found in your more affluent areas. It has been indicated that youngsters as young as eight or nine start experimenting with drugs. In most cases it is dagga, and from there they then graduate,” Malila said.
Erika Nel of the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca) said they found that the more affluent children were likely to be dependent on alcohol, dagga, cat or heroin. Children from the lower-income groups were more dependent on nyaope, dagga and alcohol.
Nel said while they worked with teenagers from 14 to 18 years old, they had also heard of drug use among small children.
Malila said police and the Department of Education had implemented a drug-prevention programme that was presented to schoolchildren. It had started in the West Rand and would be extended to other areas.
The Gauteng Department of Education said one of the things they were doing to combat “this very serious problem” was to conduct unannounced searches and seizures in schools with the help of the police, community police forums and the metro police.
Spokesman Gershwin Chuenyane said they had found that dagga was the drug of choice for pupils in both affluent and less affluent schools, while nyaope and tik were more prevalent in less affluent schools.
He said the department was still collecting information about at what age children were starting to take drugs.
“Reports from schools and SAPS indicate that learners themselves are bringing cigarettes and other substances onto the school premises. Schools are advised to be more vigilant and inspect what is being sold by vendors to learners in and outside school premises, as anecdotal reports suggest that this could also be a source of drugs entering school premises.”
* Sanca can be reached at 011 917 5015/6 or www.sancanational.org.