20 July 2015

South Africa: Northern Cape Ravaged By Substance Abuse

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The Portfolio Committee has started its oversight visit to the Northern Cape with a meeting with the MEC for Social Development, Mr Mxolisi Sokatsha, who revealed the province is ravaged by foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

The Acting Chairperson of the Committee, Ms Hope Malgas, said the Committee will focus on the social issues affecting the province, particularly substance abuse. "It is also in the interest of the Committee to see how the province dealt with the triple challenges (poverty, unemployment and inequality) facing the country as a whole. Substance abuse is not only the problem of the Northern Cape. It is also a problem in the Port Elizabeth and Western Cape farming communities," Ms Malgas said.

She said the Committee had identified substance abuse as its main area of focus, particularly how the department's programmes were impacting on people in the province. "The visit will therefore see us visit rehabilitation centres and youth empowerment centres. The Committee will engage both the officials and beneficiaries in trying to understand the impact of the provincial department's programmes," she said.

She advised the department to look for support from the traditional leadership in the province. "They have experience with the people and challenges on the ground. There is a planned meeting with them on Wednesday," she said.

Mr Sokatsha had earlier told the Committee that 60 out of a 1 000 youths in the Northern Cape suffer from foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which is characterised by permanent, irreversible brain damage and which thus has an impact on success at school. "No amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy. Although rural and urban areas are impacted, Kimberley rates are alarmingly high. The key message remains that if one is of child-bearing age, sexually active, using alcohol and is not on a contraceptive method, she is at risk of having a child with FASD," said Mr Sokatsha.

Committee member Ms Sibongile Tsoleli, voiced concern about domestic violence related to substance abuse. She said the clean audit the department received for the year should speak to the actual service delivery. "It does not help to have a clean audit if services did not reach people and are inadequate," Ms Tsoleli said.

She sought details of substance abuse programmes. "The province is leading, worldwide, on statistics on foetal alcohol syndrome. Spending should talk to that," she said. She went on to say is frustrating to hear the province talking about constructing a treatment centre, when the problem is one of long standing. "Why is it only now that you are planning to have a substance abuse treatment facility? Why was the Northern Cape not prioritised a long time ago?" she asked.

Mr Sokatsha said he believes that the visit will empower the department and help it improve service delivery to the needy. "The province has a number of programmes targeting school-going children to counter the impact of drugs, including the 'Ke Moja, I'm fine without drugs' anti-drug campaign."

The Committee is in the province for a week-long visit and will interact with affected stakeholders there.

Sibongile Maputi

20 July 2015

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