Addiction in the South African Context

by Pamela Maringa

We are living in a time where substance abuse has become a norm in our society. It has come to a point where, when people cannot cope with the mounting pressures of life, they find comfort in drugs or alcohol. South Africa faces serious problems with the increasingly high rate of drug addiction, especially in townships and informal settlements. This makes South Africa one of drug and crime capitals of the world.

Addiction was the theme of this year’s Winter Living Theology series. Winter Living Theology is an annual workshop offered by the Jesuit Institute in collaboration with the South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The series was entitled “Finding God in addiction. Pastoral responses to addiction and recovery” and was presented by American Jesuit Fr Thomas Weston.

People and clergy came from different parishes in large numbers. Some were suffering from addiction themselves while some were there in support of their family members who suffer with an addiction.  To start the series, Fr Steven Tully, the founder of NkosiNathi Centre, a project that helps Wunga addicts in Durban, made a presentation on addiction in South Africa. In this presentation he showed some of the social problems that are caused by substance abuse in the country.

Each country has its own challenges. In South Africa there is the reality of unemployment. This triggers many young people to use addictive substances.  During this session we were divided into small groups where we all shared our experience of addiction in our families and communities. A woman shared a story of her unemployed daughter who has a university degree. The daughter gave up looking for employment and this lead to depression. She then got into drugs and alcohol as a way of coping with her life. For her daughter to maintain her addiction she started prostituting herself and stealing from her family. The woman was there to learn about how she can help her daughter and also protect herself from the abuse her daughter has put her through.

I shared my experience of my own township Daveyton. In Daveyton only one in five young people are employed. Many of the unemployed smoke Nyaope, use alcohol and steal. Many people from my neighbourhood have been robbed in their own houses or in the streets. There are countless stories of people who were stoned or burned to death in so-called “mob justice” incidents. While I shared, another lady from Eldorado Park talked about her two sons who are drug addicts. She said her sons were constantly being beaten in mob justice incidents. They had also been arrested for stealing and breaking into people’s homes.

Workshops like the Winter Living Theology are much needed in our communities.  People get the opportunity to share their experiences with other people who understand them because they have had similar experiences. People were encouraged to find the “God of their understanding” in the process of recovery. One important lesson I personally took from this series was that it is ok to speak up and ask for help.  Like they say, a problem shared, is a problem solved.

Addiction is a sickness that affects all of us, for you to help your loved once suffering with addiction, help yourself first and get informed.

Ms Pamela Maringa
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