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Hope for former drug addict

Written by Jauhara Khan
Social Development Minister Susan Shabangu has pledged that the department will work towards a society free of the demand and supply of drugs.

Speaking at the national budget vote last week, Minister Shabangu said that the department would work with the National Drug Authority on Integrated Anti-Substance Abuse Programmes to eradicate substance abuse in communities. She said the department would also take forward the work it had begun on the National Drug Masterplan 2018-2022.

During her speech Minister Shabangu said the lucrative profits derived from the drug and substance trade are encouraging criminal activities in South Africa.

In line with this, Vuk’uzenzele spoke to a former drug addict and inmate at Atteridgeville Correctional Centre in Pretoria to find out how his life changed after his imprisonment. 

It is a very different life from the one he had been living prior to his arrest in 2016. He is currently serving a three-year sentence for theft at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre in Pretoria. 

His arrest came after a 12-year long drug addiction, which saw him turn to crime. 

“I started taking drugs while I was in school. My friends were smoking and taking drugs, and they pressured me into taking drugs, too,” he said.

He began to take nyaope, ecstasy and ‘rock’ which is the street name for crack cocaine, which he bought from drug dealers near his home.

“I would use my spending money for school to pay for drugs. I would even ask my neighbours for money and tell them it was for school materials. My mother would pay them back and not question why I was borrowing money. No one in my family knew what I was doing,” said.

The death of his young son in 2011 also caused the 29-year-old to seek solace in drugs.

Soon he turned to theft to keep up his drug habit. At first he would steal his neighbours’ cutlery. He was eventually arrested for stealing from a local supermarket in early 2016.

“I filled my trolley up with groceries and tried to leave the shop. The security guards stopped me at the door and they arrested me,” he said.

He was taken to the Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Facility and then Atteridgeville Correctional Centre after being sentenced to three years in prison.

“My family was shocked about what had happened. I had let them all down. My mother had a stroke four months into my sentence and died. It was painful. I knew I had a lot to think about.”  

The inmate, who wished to remain anonymous, was optimistic about the future.

He is studying for his certificate in agriculture and will be released in in October next year.

“Drugs turn you into a monster. No one can ever trust you again. Seek help if you can. I no longer have a taste for drugs. I know that I will never succeed if I go back,” he said.

He currently receives counselling from social workers, doctors and psychologists. According to social worker Clara Erenst, prisoners attend various counselling programmes through the week. The facility runs substance abuse counselling that runs for 8 sessions, and thereafter attend behavioural modification, anger management and life skills courses such as the such as the Crossroads programme and Changing Lanes.

“These courses are prescribed to inmates, but it comes down to the person. There are no drugs in here, so the addict begins to feel positive about their progress. We give them the skills to fight, but when they leave, they realise it is different. They have to fight against the monsters outside, and use what they learnt here to decide if they are going to change or if they going to return to their old behaviour,” she said.

According to figures released by the South African Community Epidemiology of Drug Use (SACENDU) based at the Medical Research Council of South Africa, the two drugs still most abused in the country are dagga and alcohol.

South Africa has no regular representative surveys on substance abuse and there has been only one national study of drug disorders, carried out between 2002 and 2004 and mainly to diagnose mental disorders in adults.