22 May 2013
The police have arrested at least 116 people this week in an operation involving a special intervention team aimed at ridding the community of Eldorado Park, south of Johannesburg, of drugs and drug-related crime.
This follows last week’s visit by President Jacob Zuma, who promised swift action in the fight against drug abuse in the area.
Of the 116 arrested, 43 were for drug-related crimes, 20 for driving under the influence of alcohol, 10 for assault, while the rest were for various crimes such as burglary, theft and possession of unlicensed firearms.
A total of 20 drug dens, also known as “lolly lounges”, have also been closed down.
Four addicted children, including an 8-year-old, found at various “lolly lounges”, have been taken to a place of safety. Police also confiscated drugs including cat, mandrax, cocaine, rock and nyaope.
Special team on the ground
An integrated special intervention team, which includes a police tactical response team, members of the flying squad and provincial officers, has been dispatched to the area to increase visibility and hunt down drug dealers.
Their operations include vehicle checkpoints, stop-and-searches, and visits to identified houses of alleged dealers and “lolly lounges”, and are continuing on a 24-hour basis in the area.
The operation comes just days after Zuma visited the area in an answer to a plea from desperate parents, who informed the President about how drugs have run rampant in the area while some local police looked on.
Briefing the media on the government’s intervention on Wednesday, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane said the seriousness of the problem in Eldorado Park was one which required swift action and expertise.
Mokonyane, who was flanked by members of the steering committee appointed by President Zuma, said various government departments would be working in partnership with the police to tackle the widespread substance abuse in the area.
“The plan is based on two key strategies, which are the Drug Master Plan, that is aimed at reducing demand, harm and supply, and the Gauteng Provincial Anti-Substance Abuse Strategy, which focuses more on prevention, early intervention, treatment and after-care and reintegration.”
Outlining the strategy, Mokonyane said the plan was not only about “banging down doors to get to drug dealers”, but would also take a deeper look into the social problems besetting the area.
Making schools safe for children
The preliminary intervention, which aims to reduce the demand for drugs, has also seen the police carrying out raids at various schools in the area, where random drug and body searches have been conducted, and raids at the homes of suspected minor drug dealers.
The druglords tend to use minors to peddle drugs, especially at schools.
Mokonyane told the media they were working towards ensuring that schools were safe havens.
“This will be done by regular inspection of vendors outside and inside school premises, impromptu drug searches, deploying patrollers in schools and at every strategic point.”
They would also fix broken school fences, clear open spaces next to schools of shrubbery, and implement the Safer Schools strategy and the Adopt-a-Cop programme for all schools in the area, she said.
Part of the schools plan will be to raise awareness by conducting door-to-door campaigns, increasing the number of learners that visit prisons, and running substance abuse prevention and social crime prevention workshops.
A Youth Against Drugs forum will also be formed through the Department of Social Development to educate learners about the effects of drugs.
The number of social workers available to both learners in schools and youngster in the broader community will also be increased.
Increasing rehab options
Part of the government’s plan, according to Mokonyane, will be looking at how children who are already addicted can be helped.
The premier announced that they have teamed up with Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, which will set up a short-term (seven-day) intensive detoxification programme.
Plans are also in place to increase funding of existing out-patient treatment centres, not only in the area but the province as well.
“In support of the initiative, we shall enhance mobilisation through community dialogues, youth safety imbizos, Men as Safety Promoters programmes and others. We shall also establish committees of concerned parents through local anti-drug committees.”
Plans are also in place to register unregistered treatment centres to ensure that they are operating within the prescribed norms and minimum standards.
‘We are moving in the right direction’
In order to ensure swift justice in the area, the steering committee is also looking at opening dedicated drug courts. According to Police Minister Nathi Methethwa, these special courts would “ensure the rapid processing of drug-related cases”.
Mthethwa, who applauded the community of Eldorado Park for standing up and partnering with the government to find solutions to their challenges, said the high police visibility and random searches and raids would remain in place until the criminals had been brought to book.
Residents who spoke to SAnews said they were seeing the difference and were starting to feel safer. “We are impressed by the police visibility. Drugs and criminals had taken over our streets, and now we are taking them back. Enough is enough,” said resident Anton Lynch.
Michelle Booysens, who said drugs had been a big component of crime in the area, said she was “seeing the light … Once again, I have hope for this community. Yes, it’s still early days, but I have hope that we are moving in the right direction. Things are changing, and united we will soldier on. “
Mokonyane said there was still more to be done to ensure that the community normalised. “It’s not going to be easy, but it is going to be in the best interests of our community.”
She added that they would bring on board a number of other departments, such as Economic Development and Trade and Industry, to address the critical lack of employment opportunities and economic activities in the area.
“Economic development will receive particular attention so that we are able to ensure that we develop alternative sustainable livelihoods for families in the area. This includes approaching businesses who could potentially invest in the area.”
The Department of Sports, Arts, Culture and Recreation will also be roped in to initiate a number of projects geared towards youth development and social cohesion.
“We will solicit support of influential individuals from disciplines such as arts, sports, music and culture to have dialogues on issues of identity, culture, diversity and a sense of belonging,” said Mokonyane.