Opening address by President Jacob Zuma to the 2nd Biennial Summit on substance abuse, 15 March 2011, Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre, Durban

The Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Dr Zweli Mkhize,

The Minister of Social Development, Ms Bathabile Dlamini,

Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers

Honourable MECs,

Leaders of political parties,

The Chairperson of the Central Drug Authority,

Artists and sports legends,

Representatives of provincial and local drug action committees,

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are gathered to discuss a matter that is very central to our nation building efforts.

We have come together because we believe in the importance of creating strong families, cohesive communities and a winning prosperous nation.

We mentioned in the State of the Nation Address last month that we would promote social cohesion and stable communities. The fight against substance abuse is a key aspect of that programme.

Today we reaffirm that alcohol and drug abuse as well as drug trafficking will receive renewed and more energetic attention from government.

Fighting substance abuse is a collaborative effort.

Government cannot do it successfully alone, given the magnitude of this societal problem.

It is therefore pleasing that the delegates at this summit include key decision-makers from government, academia, youth formations, political parties and non-governmental organizations.

We are all united in seeking solutions.

Over the past decade there has been a rapid increase in the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs by citizens of all ages, men and women, boys and girls.

Alcohol is said to be the most abused substance in South Africa followed by cannabis commonly known as dagga.

It is alarming to note that the age of first experimentation with substances has dropped from teenagers to children aged between 9 and 10 years old, which is in essence primary school children.

Reports state that children between the ages of 9 to 15 start with cigarettes, alcohol, dagga and mandrax.

If the problem is not detected early enough, they graduate to drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

The South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use has also indicated that an increasing number of young patients is being admitted to rehabilitation centres for alcohol and other drug related problems.

It is important to mention, however, that accurate and current statistics on the abuse of alcohol and other drugs in South Africa is difficult to obtain.

Substance abuse or addiction to any substance is not a notifiable condition. Families and addicts are not obliged to report to the authorities.

This makes it difficult to have an accurate picture of the extent of the problem. We also do not want to create a scare and portray our nation as the capital of drug and alcohol abuse, because we are not.

However, the problem is serious enough and we want to deal with it before it is too late.

We do not want this scourge to destabilise our nation.

As you know, alcohol and other drugs are linked to a number of other social problems. These include road collisions, interpersonal violence especially between men and men leading to stabbing and other serious injuries, violence against women and children and general instability within households.

We have seen the suffering of families and the damage that this scourge is causing in our communities. I visited a rehabilitation centre in Mitchells Plain in Cape Town early last month.

I was shocked on hearing of the suffering endured by family members and this happens in other communities around the country as well.

There are parents and relatives who live in constant fear of being assaulted and ill-treated by family members who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, including abuse by their own children.

We have heard from women who suffer beatings and abuse from their partners who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The impact on affected households is truly devastating.

In other communities, families tell of young people who drink at parties, pubs or taverns the whole night and wake up and go to school or to universities and colleges. They cannot be expected to perform well.

These lifestyles cannot be encouraged.

It also appears that each province also has its own unique challenge.

In KwaZulu-Natal there are new concoctions on the market including something called the whoonga.

Many people believe that whoonga is made up of crushed HIV treatment drugs, the anti-retroviral drugs, (ARVs), mixed with other chemicals.

Experts from the University of KwaZulu-Natal have found that the whoonga does not contain ARV`s, but is made up of heroin mixed with rat poison and other chemicals.

Perpetuating such inaccuracies is dangerous as it may make drug addicts to steal ARVs which would put the lives of people on treatment for HIV at risk.

Putting that aside, it is shocking that human beings can inflict such damage on themselves and imbibe such a dangerous substance.

It indicates the extent of the problem that we are facing.

The Western Cape Province faces the prevalence of the drug called Tik, while the Northern Cape nightmare is alcohol abuse, which leads to children being born with foetal alcohol syndrome. In Gauteng they are battling with the drug called nyaope.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While we cannot avoid lamenting and expressing our shock and displeasure, we should remember that the Summit is about finding solutions.

Delegates should therefore deliberate carefully and help us to improve programmes that will help arrest the spread of this scourge.

We need resolutions that will help us to improve education and awareness especially amongst the youth. It should be resolutions that help us to improve policing and law enforcement against drug traffickers and also which help us to improve treatment for addicts and support provided to families in distress.

The deliberations should help us to promote and implement the country`s National Drug Master Plan and the mini-drug master plans, which are our blueprints in the fight against substance abuse.

The National Drug Master Plan gives us a wide scope for intervention as it places emphasis on the reduction of supply and demand of substances as well as dealing with the impact and the harm caused.

The Drug Master Plan will be reviewed during the course of this year, for it to be strengthened in line with the current trends.

We must also strengthen the Provincial Substance Abuse Forums and the Local Drug Action Committees to make them more effective in fighting the scourge.

The most powerful weapon in fighting drugs is to reduce the demand and close the markets especially amongst the youth. We have to educate children and the youth to say "No” to drugs.

The government`s youth campaign, called"Ke Moja, No thanks, I`m fine without drugs”, needs to be revived and intensified in schools as well as through the media and community mobilisation. We urgently call on youth organisations as well as the National Youth Development Agency to support us in promoting this message.

These messages should be mainstreamed in youth programmes and entertainment, and should target all youth, black and white, as all are affected.

The messages should empower children and young people to withstand peer pressure.

Parents, relatives, faith-based organisations, women`s clubs and other societal structures should also play a role in raising awareness and to provide support to the affected, young and old.

The private sector is also an important stakeholder in the campaign against substance abuse, in particular alcohol.

Business is an important stakeholder as well. They must seriously consider the impact of advertisements that glorify alcohol and which portray it as providing the ultimate enjoyment and fancy lifestyle.

There are various measures we can explore as government to restrict the sale of alcohol in particular.

The World Health Organisation states that reducing the availability and abuse of alcohol requires steps such as changing the minimum legal purchase age for alcohol and instituting restrictions on hours and days of sale.

It also entails instituting restrictions on the number of liquor outlets in an area, increasing excise taxes on alcohol and imposing restrictions on the advertising of alcohol.

Government has opened a public debate about increasing the legal age for purchasing alcohol to 21 instead of 18.

Whatever the outcome of this debate, it should enable us to raise awareness about the need to deal with the problem.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We believe that at a more comprehensive level, government`s social transformation programmes will go a long way towards removing the conditions which encourage substance abuse.

Poverty, unemployment and living in squalor tend to breed the proliferation of drugs and the abuse of other substances.

Improving the living conditions through our socio-economic programmes will certainly contribute to the eradication of the scourge.

Government has also renewed its commitment to build recreational facilities and sports facilities for the youth in both urban and rural areas.

Our criminal justice system is also geared towards dealing with the impact of substance abuse. Violence against women is a priority crime. We continue to provide the necessary support to women in distress and to take action against perpetrators.

We have directed the police to act decisively against drug peddlers. They should face the full might of the law as they are effectively working to destroy our communities.

We urge residents in affected communities not to hesitate to provide information to the police.

Siyagcizelela ukuthi abantu abadayisa izidakamizwa emalokishini, ezindaweni ezisemakhaya nasezindaweni zasesilungwini phecelezi ama-suburbs bayaziwa omakhelwane nezihlobo zabo. Sicela umphakathi uwabikele amaphoyisa.

Asingabavumeli abantu bagwilike ngokubulala ikusasa lezingane nekusasa lesizwe.

We also reiterate our resolve to take stern action against tavern and club owners who allow under-aged children into their facilities. Communities should help us to identify the culprits.

Ngeke impela sibayeke abanikazi bamashibhi abadayisela izingane utshwala.

Sinenkinga futhi ngamashibhi avulwa eduze kwezikole okugqugquzela ukuthi izingane ziphume esikoleni ziyophuza utshwala. Yizo zonke izimo esizozifakela izibuko lezo.

We also face the problem of parents who send their children to taverns and bottle stores to buy alcohol for them. They are in a sense promoting alcohol consumption to their children.

We rely on community vigilance and pressure to make those parents or relatives who use children in this manner to stop.

In addition to preventative and law enforcement measures, government is working to improve access to treatment.

Alcohol and drug addiction can be cured. People must seek help, and families and friends should provide support.

Government is planning to expand treatment centres and to ensure accessibility even in rural areas.

During the apartheid and colonial periods, these centres were accessible to a select few. They were largely not known and not available to those who were oppressed.

We urge parents, friends and families of the affected persons to make contact with social workers in their communities who will be able to provide assistance and information on treatment centres, prevention and other issues.

Our country has a serious shortage of social workers. We appreciate the fact that the very few that we have provide a sterling service under difficult circumstances. They are government`s important contact point with the poor and the vulnerable on a daily basis.

We wish all our social workers well today, which is World Social Work Day.

Compatriots,

We should emerge from this Summit with clear messages of zero tolerance to drug abuse, trafficking and alcohol abuse.

We should highlight the fact that substance abuse interventions are aimed at saving lives, preserving families and building stronger communities.

The battle can be won if we work together to build our communities.

I wish delegates a successful Summit.

I thank you.