A child plays on a makeshift swing in Eldorado Park, west of Joburg, where drug and substance abuse have ravaged the community. Picture: Werner Beukes / SAPA.
Johannesburg - From Eldorado Park to Mitchells Plain and even Sandton and uMhlanga, drugs are tearing families apart, permanently damaging the lives of the youth and even killing its users.

The effects of drugs are widespread throughout South Africa, but Johannesburg is particularly struggling under its influence. In a desperate bid to fight the scourge of drug use, law enforcement authorities and the government have come together to sign a pledge towards making Eldorado Park a drug-free society.

These efforts by the SA Police Service (SAPS), together with the Gauteng Department of Community Safety, co-incides with Drug Prevention Week which was commemorated this week.

The department’s spokesperson Ofentse Morwane said Eldorado Park was specifically chosen as a site for the pledge to be signed as it had been identified as a notorious hotspot for drugs and other substance abuse.

The community west of Johannesburg was a site of several violent protests earlier this year as enraged residents took to the streets demanding their service delivery issues be addressed and that action be taken against drug lords in the area.

Eldorado Park was also cast into the spotlight in 2013 when former president Jacob Zuma visited the community and promised that serious action would be taken to fight drugs after a distressed mother Dereleen James penned a letter to him to complain about how illegal substances had destroyed families in the area.

She told Zuma her then 17-year-old son’s drug addiction had led him to steal her clothes in order to feed his drug habit.

Following James’s emotional appeal to the government, 37 identified drug outlets had been raided and 385 people were searched by February 2016. But over three years later, drugs are still easily available on the streets of Eldorado Park. Morwane insisted this pledge was part of a strategy to fight substance abuse in the drug-ridden area.

“This activity was to reaffirm the government’s commitment to continue to work with police in line with the department’s oversight role to fight the scourge and to mobilise the community to partner with law enforcement agencies to clean up the area of drugs.”

Gauteng police spokesperson Lieutenant Kay Makhubela echoed the department’s sentiments and said they were determined to fight the sale and use of drugs in Eldorado Park and similar areas, with law enforcement authorities arresting drug dealers in the area this week.

“The police will make sure that those involved in the dealing of drugs will be arrested. It is our (the police) mandate to ensure that we protect and serve the community and surrounding areas and make sure that residents live in peace.”

Although an increasing number of Eldorado Park residents are hooked on drugs, with a growing number of drug dealers operating in the area, Makhubela insisted the police had the resources to fight the scourge.

“We have deployed intelligence in and around the area to follow information acquired by our sources. We also make sure we patrol the community and that we are visible in Eldorado Park.”

Despite the police’s effort, Makhubela pleaded with the community to work with authorities and report drug dealers in the area.

“The community lives with these people (drug dealers) and they are afraid to talk to us, but if they do we will be more successful with our efforts and will be able to make more arrests.”

While the undertaking to rid Eldorado Park of drugs might be a step in the right direction, drug expert Dr Simon Howell believed this was not the right strategy if authorities intended on ridding communities of drugs.

“The intention of signing a drug-free pledge is good but I don’t know if it is possible to pledge something like that. I don’t think it is possible at this point to eradicate drugs in totality from society.”

Instead, Howell believes the reasons why drugs were so easily used should rather be identified and then addressed.

“It might be more effective and productive to attempt to understand why drugs are being used and then more meaningful alternatives should be presented to drug users.”

He added imprisonment and condemnation of drug users might not be the best solution to fight the scourge and that a pledge should rather be to offer addicts information on rehabilitation facilities.

“If you treat people more effectively and society helped drug users instead of punishing them, we will have a more successful outcome.”

Howell believed a large majority of people who used drugs did so because they felt excluded from society due to a variety of socio-economic reasons and that offering them more meaningful alternatives, such as skills development workshops and sports facilities for the youth, might be the solution.

“Many people abuse drugs because there is nothing else for them,” said Howell.

“We should rather provide people with a more meaningful life so that they don’t have to resort to abusing drugs.”

Saturday Star