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Fixing broken lives: Create jobs to fight drugs


Herman Mashaba is the leader of ActionSA. Mashaba is the former executive mayor of Johannesburg and founder of the People’s Dialogue.

Johannesburg is caught in a terrible Catch-22: unemployment is increasing the epidemic of drug abuse and alcoholic addiction, yet we cannot create jobs unless we end this epidemic. Time and time again, I’ve seen how the nyaope (whoonga) pandemic is driven by a sense of hopelessness for those struggling to find work. Drugs hollow out lives, materially and spiritually.

As mayor, I will tackle this immense challenge through a multipronged strategy. While I realise that drug abuse cannot be reduced to a single factor, unemployment is by far the most significant contributor.

Through job creation and proactive anti-drug strategies, we will help Johannesburg’s residents to realise their full potential.

When I pointed out the connection between Mayor Tau’s broken promises to create jobs over the last five years and the proliferation of drug abuse, there was some push back on twitter and other social media platforms. I responded by quoting an East Coast radio report, stating that “youths in Africa’s most developed economy suffer from an unemployment rate hovering around 50%, among the highest in the world, and the situation has deteriorated in the last five years”. The same report stated that “the lack of jobs and Nyaope’s easy availability have combined to devastating effect in poor communities”.

In my second Daily Maverick column in January, I mentioned how William Bratton, Commissioner of the New York Police Department from 1994 to 1996, famously presided over a dramatic decline in the city’s crime rate. Bratton embraced the “broken windows” theory: when a building window is broken and left unrepaired, the rest of the windows will soon be broken too. This equally applies to our war on drugs because “broken windows” cannot be viewed in isolation. When drug lords move into a community, shops, small businesses, training enterprises and youth projects move out.

While the lack of jobs and drugs is a “chicken or egg, which came first” conundrum, the correlation between the two is staggering. There is a vicious cycle between drug abuse and unemployment in South Africa generally, and the City of Johannesburg in particular.

Let’s consider the University of Johannesburg’s study on Poverty and Livelihoods (2013) and the SAPS annual crime statistics in 2014.

The UJ study reveals that there are suburbs with high unemployment rates that have a population that has a high daily consumption of alcohol: Ivory Park (44%), Orange farm (38%), Diepsloot (20%), and Alexandra (11%). Thus, alcohol is the major drug of abuse and addiction in South Africa.

Unsurprisingly, this research suggests that these suburbs have a high incidence of depression (33%), alcohol abuse (17%), and PTSD (15%). In a domino effect, this increases the demand on our strained healthcare system, while the human tragedy and the “opportunity cost” of lost talent is incalculable – a truly lost generation.

Additionally, the relationship between unemployment and drug abuse closely follows the contours of apartheid’s ingrained and spatial inequality. To demonstrate this, let’s zoom in on Alexandra and Sandton with a 10-year longitudinal lens. In 2014, Alexandra had an unemployment rate of 25%, and an average monthly income of R2,400. Drug abuse cases rose from 56 in 2004 to 1042 in 2014 – an 18-fold increase.

However, in Sandton, with an unemployment rate of 3%, drug abuse cases rose slowly from 74 to 358 over the same period. In former affluent suburbs such as Windsor, drug lords are taking over, while the City Council and JMPD sit back and wait for residents to protest.

We cannot shut out the problem by ignoring them – we need to decisively tackle them head-on.

For a start we need specialised units to tackle drugs and gangs across the city, as is done in DA-governed Cape Town, which has resulted in a real reduction in crime rates. I will establish the same unit in Johannesburg, as well as a permanent “Say No” campaign.

Next, we need to provide proper social support structures to those caught in the vicious cycle of drug abuse. With the first combined drug abuse treatment facility only due to be completed in 2018, we cannot rely on the ANC-run province for support, but must develop smaller, community-run structures that can react comprehensively to patients. I will be working with the private sector to seek sponsorship and support for these facilities.

Finally, we need to create the right environment for the creation of real job opportunities. I believe this can be achieved through a clean, streamlined city administration that eliminates red tape and corruption, meets the needs of investors, actively partners with SMMEs and budding entrepreneurs, and delivers services as promised to all inhabitants and businesses.

I believe that there is a concrete link between unemployment and drug abuse, and the only solution for Johannesburg is a DA administration that will create jobs, and address the needs of its residents. DM


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