The TV programme ‘Dik Getik’, which highlights drug abuse in the Western Cape and was screened on SABC3 earlier this year, is disturbing to say the least. One’s heart goes out to the many young people - girls and boys - hopelessly trying to escape the grip of tik (methamphetamine) dependency. I have first-hand experience of the destruction caused by the drug in communities who can least afford it. As if a generation of people suffering from the effects of foetal alcohol syndrome was not enough; now there is tik.
During the many years I served as the principal of a primary and secondary school, teachers would bring boys and girls who were clearly heavily under the influence of tik to my office. When I summoned the parents to the school it was clear that they were also tik users. The majority of parents, however, were people who tried to help their children in secret. They were ashamed of what the neighbours would say and often brought their children for help when it was almost too late. I could sense that my advice and support did not help much. It was traumatic to witness the physical deterioration and loss of personal pride in children who used to be bright and upright youngsters. Even those who made it, still suffer psychological and spiritual scars.
The school security company often called me in the early hours of the morning when there had been attempts to steal taps, water pipes, computers and later, even musical instruments. Addicts, driven by their craving for tik, even targeted neighbourhood churches.
I often heard stories of the most gruesome acts of violence perpetrated by tik users. One day the parents at the high school staged a protest as I had unknowingly admitted three boys who had been involved in the gruesome rape and murder of a young girl. On another occasion two primary school learners, who always sat next to each other in class, went missing. Sadly, their bodies were discovered not long afterwards. Now, hardly a day goes by without reports of a child being raped. Tik is a drug that destroys the conscience and soul of many of our young people.
I would watch in shock as parents hurriedly fetched their children, anxious to take them to a safe environment. Sometimes their children had been threatened for failing to pay money owed for tik. Often parents had to forfeit their entire monthly income, and even welfare grants to keep their children safe by paying tik dealers. The food supplies the school received from chain stores brought only temporary relief. Many learners stayed away from school or disappeared before the end of the school day. Sometimes they were so aggressive that I had to ask for police assistance.
I could never convince parents to report tik dealers and smugglers to the police - they lived in fear of revenge attacks. Tik smugglers most often belonged to gangs in the area and I soon discovered that the tik industry formed part of a network of gang activities. The threat of violence and recrimination was so real, that people simply did not say anything or report gang-related activities to the police.
While communities’ cooperation with the police would go a long way in addressing this situation, it is also true that the thugs have no regard for anyone. Even the police are helpless in the face of high levels of intimidation. Jailing these thugs is not a long-term solution - they continue their smuggling and gang activities in prison.
Drug rehabilitation centres and state agencies are fighting a losing battle. They do not have the capacity to solve the problem which has now grown completely out of proportion. This is why drug dealers do as they please. Newspapers often highlight the problems experienced by state prosecutors who are not able to put these criminals behind bars. The arrogance of these thugs knows no limits. They infiltrate and cripple every domain – including the institutions responsible for law and order – and even boast about their ties with politicians and bureaucrats.
Who would have thought that 15 years into our democracy so many of our communities would be crippled by a drug like tik? Who could have imagined that the very institutions entrusted with the duty to uphold the Constitution and protect our communities would run away from the tik monster, tail between their legs?
Are we allowing our healthy and robust democracy to give way to anarchy and lawlessness? And who must be held accountable for the apparent lack of law and order? Our government?
If so, we demand decisive action. Declare an all out war against tik and do what everything in your power to rid our communities from this scourge.
Christo van der Rheede is the Chief Executive Officer of the Stigting vir Bemagtiging deur Afrikaans