Defend Truth


Something rotten when there are more drug dens than schools in Western Cape


Brett Herron is the Secretary-General of GOOD and a Member of the National Assembly.

Of the more than 1,800 drug houses the Western Cape government knows about, some are located in the suburbs. When one of these is bust it makes the news because they’re not meant to be there; they’re somehow more tolerable elsewhere. Like in Nyanga.

The recent revelation in the Western Cape Provincial Legislature that there are more known drug dens than schools in the province reflects the rejection of a development agenda to begin to balance the qualities of life of suburban and township residents.

The ANC purports to have a development agenda, somewhere beneath the layers of maladministration and corruption. The DA has no pretences in this regard. It remains steadfastly focused on demonstrating its worth by maintaining the provision of comfortable living and working environments for some of its residents.

This focus fuels its central message that it is better than the ANC. It has the clean audits and pristine suburbs to prove it. It tries to sell the proposition that the sky’s the limit. It is itching to arrest the ANC’s pal, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and aspires to lead the next expedition to the Moon.

The truth about better” or worse” is arguably better judged not on what politicians say, but through the lens of the lived experience of the people. 

Theres nothing better or worse about the quality of life and service provision to townships and informal settlements in the Western Cape compared with that in any of the ANC-led provinces. Theyre equally bad.

Clean audits are good. But audits are technical tools that dont measure the impacts of government spending. Being able to account for your money is very different to accounting for your impact on narrowing the gap between haves and have-nots and thereby contributing to creating a more just society.

Extension of services

Narrowing the gap neednt involve reducing the level of service provision to middle-class communities. It should be about extending this level of service to other communities to create environments in which young people can develop in peace and escape the cycle of poverty and indignity. 

What we have in Western Cape, and Cape Town (replicated, pretty much, across the whole country), is what former President Thabo Mbeki described as two worlds in one. We all see it, know it and live with it.

If you live in Newlands, as I do, you lead a truly developed-world existence. If a street light fails, the council is there to fix it. The garbage is collected at the same time each week. God forbid any signs of a pothole.

Layered on top of these services from the state are the electric fences, alarm systems and private security companies that members of such communities can afford. So it’s relatively clean, relatively safe – and just down the road there are great schools and sports facilities.

If you live in Manenberg, your daily lived experience is somewhat different. Here, infrastructure was created to house a finite number of forcibly removed people, without provision for natural population growth. With nowhere else to go, residents crowd into council houses or flats, and erect backyard shacks and Wendy houses. 

Water and sewerage infrastructure wasn’t expanded, but left to cope, or not cope, with ever-increasing users and volumes. 

If you live in Nyanga, chances are youre envious of the superior services the people of Manenberg receive. It’s the old sliding scale. As it was then, so it is now. 

Drug houses

Of the more than 1,800 drug houses that the Western Cape government knows about, some are no doubt located in the suburbs. When one of these is occasionally bust, it tends to make the news because theyre not meant to be there; theyre somehow more tolerable elsewhere. Like in Nyanga. 

How do you balance the Western Cape governments admission that the number of known drug dens is skyrocketing with its delusions of superiority and grandeur? 

How does the premier balance his fantasy to arrest Vladimir Putin with the interests of residents in crime-wracked communities in his own province? 

What do the drug dens tell us about the impact of the considerable spending by the province and City of Cape Town on law enforcement? They want more policing powers devolved to them, and we dont disagree with the principle of the devolution of certain policing powers to cities and provinces.

The reality, however, is that policing on its own will never undo what structural and institutionalised poverty, under-development and indignity built over the past almost 400 years of injustice. 

The environment in which children are growing up in Manenberg or Nyanga wont ever be as leafy as those from Newlands are used to. We wish it weren’t so, but its naïve to think otherwise. 

Whats unacceptable is our seeming tolerance for environments which impose limitations on children. Drug dens are key points in this drama, because where the environment on its own cant extinguish young peoples’ hopes, drugs and alcohol are there to complete the job. 

Comparing itself favourably to the ANC and grandstanding about Putin does nothing to move the pieces on this chess board. 

Unequal society

The measure of both the DA and ANCs betrayal of South Africa is reflected in the Gini coefficient placing us among the most unequal societies in the world. Few would argue that this is sustainable.

The strategies and tactics to fix what is a tsunami of antisocial and criminal behaviour dont lie in policing. The answers lie in developing the people, and it begins with developing environments which afford young people real opportunities to exit the cycle of hopelessness.

Instead of spending ever-increasing budgets on an array of crimefighting units and fancy technology, as the City of Cape Town does – to deal with crime after it has been perpetrated – what young people actually need is access to more social workers, more psychologists at their schools, more substance-abuse treatment programmes, more recreational facilities, and more practical life skills development initiatives.

Because communities may be relatively poor does not mean that their children have less need for early childhood development programmes. It does not mean they have less need for safe places to play and hang out. It does not mean they have less potential to make a positive contribution to the country.

For as long as communities believe that criminals have more power than the state to change the course of their lives, and for as long as the state, whether DA- or ANC-led, continues to neglect the pursuit of social, economic, spatial and environmental justice for all South Africans – from the bottom up – drug dens and criminality will proliferate. 

What the Western Cape needs is a premier able to see beyond the view from Leeuwenhof, across the Cape Flats. And if the premier wants to arrest Putin, he should join the police. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rudd van Deventer says:

    Fluff piece for the ANC/Good coalition. Lack of in-depth analysis and appropriating responsibility to those trying to help but are blocked by the ANC. It hits all the keywords to be taken up by the media bots.

  • Paddy Ross says:

    You certainly deserve ten out of ten for your persistence, Brett. In case you had not noticed, drug dens should be dealt with by SAPS, education by the province.

  • WS 95 says:

    Is policing not a national Government (in)competency?

    The DA in the Western Cape has been calling for greater control of the SAPS in the Western Cape for years, but that might have the effect of showing the cANCer just how useless they are?

  • Robert Gornal says:

    I suggest that Brett Harron reads Michael Evans’s article in the same newsletter to get a better idea of who is responsible for the increasing inequality status of this country. Across the entire article not a single suggestion as to how to remedy the situation he refers to, just a little piece of self political propaganda.

    • Shirley Gobey says:

      So easy to criticize when you’re not in power. Has Mr Herron not read the plans that the mayor has for CT? There will be a lot more spent on social development for the city. Does he suggest that the people who are paying rates and taxes be overlooked because they are privileged enough? Unfortunately poverty and social injustices occur in every single big city in the world. CT is no exception.

  • Keith Scott says:

    The drug gangs have economic power because they control the lucrative drug trade and are thereby able to ‘support’ the communities in which they live and corrupt politicians and the criminal justice system. The only way to curtail their power is to move away from prohibition towards the legal regulation of all drugs, and include them in a similar framework that we use to regulate the alcohol trade. A number of senior politicians agree wholeheartedly with this proposal but are too timid to speak out in its support. Those who have doubts that legal drug regulation is the only way to solve the drug/crime situation should have a chat to the authority of crime in the Cape Flats, General Jeremy Veary.

    • Dorothy Laura Lucas says:

      The unfortunate facts are that the police re sometimes the druglord, tavern owner or money lender. The community has a weird concept of not ratting out the guilty. They know exactly who is selling illicit drugs, stolen goods etc but if you ask them to report it they refuse. Are they afraid of being the next victim? It goes even deeper. Recently a body of a new born baby was found stuffed into a drain pipe nd the police determined that it was from the same mother of a babies body found a year before. How can no-one in the community know nothing about it. One day your neighbor is at the end of pregnancy, the next day she is no longer pregnant but there is no baby. The community lives in fear of being snuffed out if they talk. The instigators of violence are jailed for a few months and then let loose on the community. How can that be healthy?

  • Frans Ferreira says:

    Brett should come out of his glass house and do something about the situation himself.

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