08 August 2008

Drug abuse biggest threat to SA: DA

Drug abuse is costing South Africa R20 billion a year and could pose a bigger threat to the country's future than the Aids pandemic, DA leader Helen Zille has warned.

Drug abuse is costing South Africa R20 billion a year and could pose a bigger threat to the country's future than the Aids pandemic, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille warned on Friday.

According to SA Police Services figures, 60 percent of crimes nationally were related to substance abuse, she wrote in her party's weekly newsletter, published on the DA's SA Today website.

In the Western Cape, the figure was closer to 80 percent. "The perpetrators of these crimes are either under the influence of substances, or trying to secure money for their next fix."

Crime was a key driver of South Africa's brain drain, with over half of those who emigrated citing crime and corruption as their main reason for leaving.

"When they leave, they take their skills and capital with them and drastically reduce the prospects for growth and job creation for the unemployed. So, in a nutshell, drug abuse is everyone's problem."

SA one of drug capitals of world
Zille said the situation was going from bad to worse. "In 2004, government disbanded the SA Narcotics Bureau (SANAB), a dedicated drug-fighting unit within the SAPS that had achieved some notable successes. Since [its] closure, drug-related crimes have increased exponentially - in fact by 30 percent."

The recently-released United Nations World Drug Report had named South Africa as one of the drug capitals of the world.

"Drug and alcohol abuse, in my view, may prove to be an even more fundamental threat to South Africa's future than HIV/Aids. The growing (young) legions of substance abusers are destroying themselves, their families and their communities. They are driving crime up and the economy down."

Zille said the government should take note of studies that showed the average age of drug dependency in South Africa to be 12 years old, and dropping.

"One in two schoolchildren admits to having experimented with drugs."

Drugs 'devastating' local communities
Many communities in South Africa now lived in fear of drug dealers. "People live in fear of the gangsters who sell their drugs; they worry themselves sick about their children falling prey to them.

"This fear and anxiety is not a product of media hype, as [Safety and Security] Minister [Charles] Nqakula so often likes to claim. It is the reality on the ground, a place where our government seldom looks."

For too long, government had been apathetic about the drug and crime epidemic that was devastating local communities and the economy.

Zille said the Central Drug Authority - in figures released by the statutory body in May this year - estimated the socio-economic cost of drug abuse was R20 billion a year. – (Sapa, August 2008)

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