Johannesburg - They had pleaded for him to help, and on Tuesday President Jacob Zuma finally responded, offering the full might of the government and promises to end Eldorado Park’s drug epidemic.
The president visited the area in response to an exclusive in The Star on April 30. A group of desperate and traumatised Eldorado Park mothers and sisters were seeking to enlist the highest office in the land to deal with a drug scourge in the area that had seen a generation destroyed by tik, cat and nyaope.
On Tuesday, Zuma got a standing ovation at the Eldorado Park Sports Stadium when he told the crowd he would drive the anti-drug campaign in the area himself.
The crowd, who had been angry for having to wait two hours for the president’s arrival, responded with chants of “Zuma, Zuma”.
The president promised to close the lolly lounges – notorious drug dens – and to look at possibly changing laws to uplift the community through economic initiatives.
As he spoke, the crowd, several thousand strong, began to warm to him. They cheered and repeated some of his phrases.
Zuma arrived in Eldorado Park, south of Joburg, with a contingent of cabinet ministers, MECs, directors-general and high-ranking police officials.
He was there in response to a letter from a group of “mothers and sisters” who wrote of the effect drugs had had on them and their families.
Zuma told the audience he was touched by what he had read.
“That letter made me take the decision that we must come here, that we must not delay as it is very serious,” he said.
He had arrived in Eldorado Park with “all three spheres of government” – national, provincial and municipal – to find a quick solution to the problem.
The day began with him meeting some of the mothers who had written the letter last month.
A crying Dereleen James – one of those mothers – took to the stage before Zuma spoke to tell of her fight to try to get her son off tik.
“My son has done everything to get drugs. He has stolen from me, and sold household stuff and even his clothes,” she said.
James called on Zuma, who she referred to as Dad, to deal with corrupt police and drug dealers who couldn’t be brought to justice.
“We are relying on you, Dad, that our law enforcement and courts do not face the other way. I am afraid you will leave us with the same promises, Mr President,” she said.
Zuma said it troubled him that the community claimed the police were corrupt and called for their removal. He said Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa would be looking into the issue.
He told residents that the government must look at possibly “adjusting our laws” so that druglords could no longer hide behind the law. He has promised to close down all of Eldorado Park’s lolly lounges, the area’s drug dens.
He also planned to act against the lolly lounges – “houses that are rotten, where kids are taken and abused, they are going to be closed by law”.
The president promised that various ministers and other leaders who had joined him on the visit would come up with a plan of action.
“We have heard you and we will respond to you. We need to act swiftly to save the community. The response will be a co-operation between the government and the community.”
The government also planned to build factories in the area, he said.
Zuma told the audience that Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane would assist James to find a rehab centre to help her son end his tik addiction.
Zuma highlighted the following measures:
* Will ask Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa to look into allegations of police corruption;
* Will adjust laws, if need be, so that druglords can’t hide behind them;
* Will provide better rehabilitation centres for addicts;
* Will help provide jobs by getting factories built in Eldorado Park.