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Lawrence Mashabela, Social Development Dept, Gauteng

24/07/11, 11:00

Gauteng is worried that addiction amongst youngsters in the province is becoming a runaway problem. Social Development spokesperson Lawrence Mashabela says cannabis is one of many substances being abused and has called on families and communities to assist in drug awareness.

This opinion piece first appeared in The Sowetan on 8 July 2024.


Addiction continues to be a major pressing issue in our townships, affecting not only the users but also their families and the community at large. Substance abuse destroys the moral fibre in our communities. It is deeply disturbing that drugs and illicit trafficking find an easy way to circulate about our communities.


The abuse of drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and crystal meth continue to be a significant problem, with the numbers rising over the years, especially among young people, despite the government’s integrated approach to fight this scourge.


This has led to an increase in crime, poverty, and health issues. The people who supply these substances live among us. They are our brothers and sisters, husbands or wives, uncles to some of us. We don’t have to wait until it affects our family members. We must help the government fight this war.


Several initiatives have been conducted to address the causes and effects of this chronic social and health problem at national, provincial and local government levels. The Gauteng government has partnered with various organisations to discourage youth and children from getting involved with substances. However, despite these efforts, surveys indicate that substance use is still on the rise.


According to the 2023 World Drug Report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, drug use continues to be high worldwide. In 2021, one in every 17 people aged 15–64 had used a drug in the past 12 months. The estimated number of users grew from 240 million in 2011 to 296 million in 2021 (5.8 percent of the global population aged 15–64). This 23% increase is partly due to population growth. 


Cannabis continues to be the most used drug, with an estimated 219-million users (4.3% of the global adult population) in 2021.


In SA, more and more women, especially those aged 15 and upwards, are becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. To reduce the prevalence of substance abuse in our communities, the Gauteng department of social development has a flagship prevention programme called “Ke Moja” (I am fine without drugs), which empowers children, youth and parents about the dangers of substance abuse.


Substance abuse is also a major contributor to gender-based violence (GBV). Many individuals who are addicted to drugs resort to criminal activities to finance the addiction, leading to an increase in theft, burglary, and even violent crimes. It can also lead to an increased risk of HIV and other infectious diseases, as drug users may engage in risky behaviours such as sharing needles. 


Regrettably, SA is one of the countries experiencing a serious problem of substance abuse. In 2022, the country was identified as one of the world’s largest methamphetamine markets by Harm Reduction International in its Global State of Harm Reduction report.


Over the years, we have seen a growing trend in the number of young people involved in alcohol and substance abuse. 


Sadly, underage drinking has also been a growing problem. Many underage children who are supposed to be focusing on their studies have fallen into the trap of drinking. Numerous studies have revealed that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics. 


Meanwhile, school pupils who abuse substances are three times more likely to get involved in violent crimes. Frighteningly, the average age of drug dependency in SA is about 12 years old and continues to drop.


South African society is confronted with many social ills, ranging from young people who are homeless, children being attacked, dysfunctional families, high prevalence of teenage pregnancy, school dropouts, the spread of HIV/Aids, chronic diseases, and GBV. All these problems are mainly caused by the use of substances.


Although the government has its own integrated National Drug Master Plan to fight against substance abuse and drugs, serving as the national blueprint to combat drug abuse and illicit trafficking and mitigate its negative effects on society, the government alone cannot win this battle.


It requires everyone’s active participation. It requires all hands on deck if we are to end this heinous monster that is crippling the future of our children.


We need everyone to stand up and fight the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse in our communities. It is everybody's responsibility.


Substance abuse does not know any boundaries; it does not recognise class, colour, or background. It affects everyone. We need to encourage and help our children avoid alcohol-related problems by discussing the dangers of drinking.


Lawrence Mashabela is a communicator with Gauteng Department of Social Development

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