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Who do Capetonians turn to in the face of a drug scourge? Murray Williams ponders the question...
Cape Town - A kid asked me: “What’s Pagad?” I answered: “Well, there are many parts of Cape Town where there’s terrible drug abuse and where gangs hurt or kill people almost every day.
“These people have decided to take on the gangsters. They don’t care that their lives are in danger – they know they’re the only ones prepared to stand up to the bad guys.”
The kid replied: “So they’re like heroes? Like our freedom fighters were?”
But what do the adults think?
Premier Helen Zille said this week: “Our crisis of substance abuse is harming another generation of young people worse than even what apartheid did to their forefathers.
“Apartheid didn’t incapacitate people, but it mobilised them to demand their rights and to claim control of their lives.”
Zille said the Department of Social Development had set aside R87-million to tackle drug and alcohol abuse in the Western Cape.
The department has increased the number of drug rehabilitation facilities from eight in 2008 to 25 this year, and has funded 31 NGOs.
Across Cape Town, too, you’ll find seriously courageous individuals who risk their lives every day to try to save communities – especially kids – from the world of drugs.
But regardless of the monumental effort to protect against drugs, it fuels a full-blown war on Cape Town’s streets. As we all know.
So who, pray, do the people of Cape Town turn to then?
On the streets of greater Athlone, and beyond, they’ve turned to themselves – as people against gangsterism and drugs – lower case. As the People Against Gangsterism and Drugs, upper case.
Now, at the mention of Pagad, many will immediately recoil, and point out their darker side. The Cape Argus has reported on at least eight arson, petrol or pipe-bomb attacks on the Cape Flats since July 10. Most of these have been in greater Athlone, and three have coincided roughly with Pagad motorcades.
Neighbours of four residential bombing targets have alleged the houses were known drug dens.
Cassiem Parker has consistently denied that Pagad members had anything to do with the attacks. So the attacks are all coincidence?
The jury’s still out.
What’s clear, though, is that the state has failed to protect its people.
And if, as Zille says, drugs are indeed as destructive as apartheid, then maybe we should be calling Pagad’s brave citizens “freedom fighters”?
Freedom fighters who have “mobilised… to demand their rights and to claim control of their lives”. Sound familiar?
Those were the exact words used to describe the anti-apartheid campaign.
Have we forgotten that it was a generation of freedom fighters to whom we owe this country’s very existence – a band of banned outlaws who stood tall when all other efforts failed?
More acutely, how many former MK freedom fighters occupy the top ranks of the police today?
Do they seriously blame “the people” for standing up for themselves – in the face of such miserable state failure? In the face of such daily abuse and despair on the streets of Cape Town? - Cape Argus
* Murray Williams is an Independent Newspapers journalist.
** The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Independent Newspapers.