• To combat rising alcohol abuse among youth,South Africa’s Social Development Department held awareness workshops in Buffalo City.
  • Stakeholders including police,liquor board and community leaders discussed underage drinking, illegal shebeens, and the importance of parental involvement.
  • The workshops aimed to educate communities and encourage collaboration to create safer environments for young people.

As South Africa commemorates Youth Month, the Department of Social Development wishes to remind South Africa of one of the challenges faced by young people around the country – alcohol and substance abuse.

Data from the 2016 South African National Demographic and Health Survey found that at least one in every four young people had consumed alcohol by the ages of 15–19 (SAMRC, 2016).  Each year, approximately 5,000 young people under the age of 21 die because of underage drinking; this includes about 1,900 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, 1,600 because of homicides, 300 from suicide, as well as hundreds from other injuries. Therefore, the 2024 Commemoration of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking will be focusing on the effects of alcohol abuse and binge drinking amongst South African youth.

The International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is marked on 26 June every year, to strengthen action and cooperation in achieving the goal of a world free of drug abuse. The Commemoration of International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking was initiated by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 42/112 of 7 December 1987. This day serves to remind Member States of the goals to create an international society free of drug abuse. The aim and objective of this day is to create awareness and educate communities about the effects and impact of substance abuse and related challenges on individuals, families, and communities.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is a United Nations office that was established in 1997 and leads this global campaign. The campaign aims to raise awareness about the major challenge that illicit drugs present to society, especially amongst young people. The goal of the campaign is to mobilize support and inspire people to act against illicit drug use and abuse. The Commemoration of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is preceded by a National Anti-Drug awareness week which commenced the week of 17th– 21 June 2024. It is in this context that the Department of Social Development was hosting Anti-Drug substance abuse awareness educational activities in Buffalo City highlighting the dangers associated with drug usage, abuse and illegal trade.

Concerted effort is required from stakeholders who are policy makers, planners, and implementers to eradicate alcohol-related harms in communities. Ms Motshabi Nkoane, the Social Work Policy Manager stressed the importance of working together with other relevant stakeholders  including councillors and the traditional leadership to fight the scourge of substance abuse as stipulated in the National Drug Master Plan. The department together with various partners such as Eastern Cape Liquor Board (ECLB), South African Police Services (SAPS) and local councillors remembers the 21 teenagers who died in Scenery Park at Enyobeni tavern two years ago. The national anti-drug awareness week emanates from the National Drug Master Plan (NDMP) 2019 – 2024, which is an overarching blueprint of the country’s response to substance abuse. The goal of the NDMP is to contribute to safer and healthier communities through coordinated efforts to prevent usage, treatment of substance disorders, and reduction, production, and distribution of illicit drugs in South Africa.

The build-up activities in the form of community workshops reached three communities in Buffalo City, namely Scenery Park on day one, Ndevana location and lastly Nxarhuni village where children, parents, liquor traders and community leaders gathered to address issues associated with the scourge of substance abuse.

Speaking at the engagement in Ndevana, addressing parents and liquor traders SAPS called on community members to join hands with law enforcement officials pleading with young and old to report people who are trading illegal substances and those involved in criminal activities. Another community safety officer, Ms Sibongiseni Tom from Ndevana pointed out that ‘parents of today’ are overprotective of their children and that hinders law enforcement’s ability to effectively do their job. “Parents nowadays are fighting with us and allowing their children to get away with crime instead of working with us and therefore contribute to building a safer and healthier community”.

Local councillors are aware of the various grassroots challenges including the scarcity of information, resources and support services, more especially about issues of harmful substances and addiction, illegal practices by liquor traders and the dangers of substance abuse and this often leads to devastating consequences in South African communities. “Most people in rural communities do not know that liquor traders are required to have their licences clearly displayed in their premises for patrons to see. That was valuable information for them and we are grateful for the partnership between the Liquor Authority and the Department of Social Development”, assertedCouncillor Nkala from Ward 49 as he emphasised the need for more awareness campaigns to reach rural communities.

The Eastern Cape Liquor Board assured the communities of their commitment in curbing underage drinking and other pressing matters such as illegal shebeens that are mushrooming at a high speed and the selling of alcohol to pregnant women.

“We want community members to be the ears and eyes for us so that we can assist them”, said Inspector Ngqola of ECLB as he explained the importance of responsible trading and compliancy with liquor regulations. “If there’s any illegal practices we will act on that!

South Africa achieved global status as one of riskiest drinking countries, and a recent national review indicates there are also high levels of binge/heavy episodic drinking patterns especially among the youth. Binge drinking has been shown to be prevalent, regardless of settlement type and socio-economic status. A 17 year-old Sombesiwe Vakele from Scenery Park said winning the fight against substance abuse should be the community’s fight. “Young people are not aware of the dangers associated with substance abuse, but they realise later that they have destroyed their future” she said. Young Vakele is a proud striker for Lions Tracker, a football team which was formulated in efforts to fight the unlucky situation of underage drinking in Scenery Park.

In Nxarhuni village, a 12 year old opened the department’s community engagement with a powerful inspirational piece urging the youth to fight for their futures and stay away from harmful substances and criminal activities.

The South African theme for this year’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking is: Listening to children and youth is the first step to help them grow healthy and safe against alcohol and drugs. The theme aims to seek and raise awareness of the fact that leading a healthy lifestyle requires making choices that are beneficial to body and mind. To make these choices, young people need guidance from role models and need to get the facts about illicit drug use and abuse.

Young people at these build-up activities cited reasons of boredom, peer pressure and easy access to drugs and alcohol as some of the major challenges present in their society. The youth also expressed that parents should actively support initiatives that educate everyone about the risks associated with substance abuse, advocating for a proactive approach to community wellness.

Chief Silinyana who represented traditional leadership in Nxarhuni echoed the people’s sentiment- the need for forums and regular interactions to address the needs of the people and combat substance abuse. He added that his hope is to see the efforts of the department grow from strength to strength in order to reach and change the lives of young people in South Africa.

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