Youth in marginalized communities of Grahamstown are exposed to drugs from an early age. Linda Ngamlana, principal of Amasango Career School, says “some of them are abusing drugs because they come with that from their families.” Amasango Career School is a public school that accommodates children with extrinsic, psycho-social barriers to learning.
A survey done by social worker, Judith Rungani (Fort Hare), looked at schools in lower-income areas of Grahamstown. The survey questioned 100 children who abuse substances about what they assume the effects of drugs are, as well as what substances they abused.
According to the survey, the most commonly used drugs are those that occur on the market legally (for adults) and are therefore easily accessible. Many shop owners in the community will sell substances, such as alcohol and cigarettes, to underage children because they need the money themselves.
“Some of [the children at Amasango] are abusing marijuana, alcohol and drugs. Marijuana is easily accessible. We sometimes call the police when we confiscate marijuana here at school and they do tell the police that they get it from the township; it’s not difficult to get it,” says Ngamlana.
The 2015/2016 crime statistics released in July, paints a bleak picture of high crime rates. The statistics, compiled by the SAPS (South African Police Service), show that drug-related crimes are the second highest crime category nationally, with 260 000 reported cases.
Crimes of this nature are highly influenced by socio-economic factors, such as poverty and unemployment. For this reason, rural areas are most severely impacted. This is aggravated by the fact that these areas don’t receive sufficient support from state hospitals with limited resources in their rehabilitation facilities.
The term, ‘drug-related crimes’ refers to both crimes relating to the use and possession of drugs, as well as intent to distribute and the distribution of drugs.
This year, 710 drug-related crimes were recorded daily. Despite the national decrease in this category, the Eastern Cape saw a 6.7 percent increase from last year, and is currently the province with the second highest rate of drug-related crimes.
In a report, the SAPS note that a decrease would not necessarily reflect a positive change. “An increase in these crimes may actually indicate that the police are more active, whereas a decrease may indicate reduced police activity.” It is also likely that the decrease resulted from a change in strategy of offenders, such as avoiding roadblocks.
Ward 3 councillor, Marcelle Booysen says that in black communities of Grahamstown, such as Ghost Town, drugs are easily accessible. Employment in these areas is also extremely low. According to census data, only 34.5 percent of Makana residents are employed. Representatives of the Coloured Management Committee acknowledged that job creation is essential in countering the problem of substance abuse.
“The primary solution must be the creation of jobs, especially through the development of small businesses and possibly with the assistance of the Small Business Development Corporation,” said the committee in a statement.
According to a report released by Amasango, children are exposed to overt substance abuse from an early age. “Many of our learners are the children of single mothers who live around the shebeens. They have been exposed to alcohol abuse all their lives and some have drunk homemade alcohol from a young age.”
“Youth in the communities are exposed to drugs … because there are no alternative sources of entertainment due to the lack of facilities in underdeveloped black areas,” said the SAPS in a CSVR (Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation) community relations survey.
However, children in lower-income areas are not necessarily predestined to fall into patterns of substance abuse. Research by Rungani suggests that parental influence does not play a significant role in children developing a dependency on drugs. “No significant relationship was found between drug use by learners and the influence of [a] parent or guardian. Most of the learners reported that they are not influenced by their parents or guardians to use drugs.”
Nevertheless, children need schools and social intervention that shows an alternative way of living, rather than adapting to the structure of abuse that overwhelms their communities. “If the language at home is drugs and alcohol then you can’t expect those parents to teach the learners to stay away from alcohol and drugs,” says Ngamlana.
Fort England Psychiatric Hospital in Grahamstown, is a government funded provincial hospital and is currently the only provincial resource for substance abuse treatment.
“We make use of Fort England Drug Abuse Unit, where the children go for the detoxing of the body; cleaning the body from drugs,” says Ngamlana. “Although we don’t take many at a time because of the long list of Fort England patients. They try to accommodate us.”
This is problematic because many children without permanent housing or a guardian present, find alternative means of funding their drug habits. According to Amasango’s report, “drug dependent children become caught up in crime in order to finance their habits when money from begging is insufficient. This includes drug running for adult traffickers.”
While organizations such as Amasango and the Grahamstown Children’s Welfare Society do attempt to aid children, more state and public facilities are required. In order to offer long term solutions, sustainable plans to alleviate unemployment and improve educational facilities in communities is essential.