SHINING A LIGHT ON SUBSTANCE ABUSE: A COMMUNITY’S CALL FOR CHANGE

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By Evans Molimi

  • The Department of Social Development is spearheading educational campaigns in East London to combat substance abuse and raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol and drug misuse.
  • Community members, particularly the youth, are rallying together to fight substance abuse, emphasising the importance of sports and community involvement in keeping young people away from harmful substances.
  • The campaign is especially poignant as it coincides with the remembrance of the tragic deaths of 21 teenagers at Enyobeni Tavern two years ago, highlighting the ongoing challenges and community efforts to address these issues.

In a scene of community unity and determination, the Department of Social Development is hosting educational awareness campaigns in various locations across East London, and the Eastern Cape, in the lead-up to the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (IDADAIT). These sessions aim to raise awareness about the harmful use, abuse, and misuse of alcohol and drugs, including binge drinking.

Observed annually on 26 June, the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, or World Drug Day, seeks to strengthen action and cooperation towards achieving a world free of drug abuse. Drug abuse remains a significant challenge in South Africa, posing serious threats to public health, safety, and societal well-being. The pervasive issues of addiction affect individuals, families, and communities nationwide, exacerbated by socio-economic factors like poverty, inequality, and unemployment. Among these challenges, alcohol misuse is particularly widespread, especially among young people, impacting community cohesion profoundly.

The build-up activities in East London hold special significance, particularly as the country remembers the 21 teenagers who tragically died at Enyobeni Tavern two years ago. From 18 to 20 June 2024, the Department will visit Scenery Park Community Hall, Ndevana Community Hall, and Nxarhuni Community Hall. These gatherings bring together children, youth, liquor traders, and representatives to combat the scourge of substance abuse through information sharing on compliance with licensing conditions and empowering traders not to sell alcohol to underage children and pregnant women.

On the first day of the campaign at Scenery Park, the community turned out in large numbers to join the Department, along with the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) and the Eastern Cape Liquor Authority. Scenery Park is grappling with a high rate of substance abuse among teenagers, a challenge that saw the formation of the Lion Trackers, a women’s football team.

Seventeen-year-old Sombesiwe Vakela, a striker for the Lion Trackers, emphasised that winning the fight against substance abuse should be a community effort. “Young people are often unaware of the dangers associated with substance abuse until they realise too late that they have jeopardised their future,” she said. Vakela stressed the importance of community members taking a stand on this issue. “It pains me to see parents failing to reprimand their teenage children about alcohol and drug abuse. It is crucial for our community to address this issue,” she added.

Vakela highlighted how activities like sports can keep young people away from alcohol and drugs. She encourages her peers to speak out about substance abuse and engage in sports to stay active and healthy. Her involvement in soccer now serves as a source of hope for many teenagers in her community.

Ms Motsabi Nkoana, Social Work Policy Manager for the Substance Abuse programme at the Department of Social Development, emphasised the prevalent issue of alcohol and drug misuse among both young and older residents of the area. “Research indicates that many adolescents begin drinking at a very young age, with studies suggesting that starting alcohol consumption early increases the likelihood of harmful behaviours affecting both the individual and the community,” she explained.

Despite these challenges, members of the Scenery Park community, young and old alike, stress the vital role parents play in guiding adolescents away from alcohol and drug misuse. “Parents need to be a source of hope and strength,” emphasised one community member, echoing sentiments shared by a 13-year-old attendee. The youth 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.

 

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