While the country marks the last few days of Women’s Month, Manenberg police say they have arrested an alarmingly high number of women for drug-related offences in this month alone.
It seems women have been sucked into the drug scourge in intricate and deadly ways in communities ravaged by gang wars.
Donna Jonathan is one woman who knows this situation all too well. At the age of 12, Ms Jonathan started drinking alcohol and at the age of 17 she started using tik.
On April 30 this year, Ms Jonathan marked seven years since she stopped using drugs.
Ms Jonathan, now 32, grew up in Hanover Park with her parents and two sisters. She started abusing substances because she felt that something was missing inside of her. She said she felt uncomfortable in her own skin and always looked for something to make her feel good.
She was not happy and started drinking alcohol to fit in with the crowd.
Ms Jonathan said there was always alcohol in the house and whenever adults would visit, they would drink and look happy so she thought that it would make her happy as well.
In 2008 she decided she wanted to get clean and started treatment at the Cape Town Drug Centre in Observatory.
Ms Jonathan, however, relapsed and went back to the centre a year later. Her counsellor at the time referred her to the Harmony Clinic in Hout Bay for further treatment.
“I thought alcohol would help make me happy. I started to drink on occasion but soon started to drink every day. But alcohol made me get blackouts so I told my sister I needed something that would me make me awake and make me fit in,” said Ms Jonathan.
Ms Jonathan’s sister introduced her to tik. She stayed awake for days on end and never felt tired. She said she experimented with heroin but that also caused her to blackout.
When asked why she thought people turned to dealing, Ms Jonathan said it was easy money.
“They don’t have the intention of destroying anyone’s lives when they deal drugs they just really want to make money,” she said.
Many women, according to Ms Jonathan, also sell drugs for power because they know that drug dealers hold power and that people “bow down” to them when they sell drugs.
According to Captain Ian Bennett from the Manenberg Police Station, during August alone, 26 women had been arrested for selling and dealing drugs in Manenberg.
This number, according to Captain Bennett will rise as the month has not ended yet.
He said while the country celebrated women’s achievements during Women’s Month, women in Manenberg were being arrested for various crimes.
Three women were arrested for the possession of guns, 26 for drugs, two for dealing in liquor, three for theft, four for common assault, three for drunk driving, two for defamation of character, one for shop lifting, one for violating an existing interdict, and one for intimidation. This brings the total amount of woman arrested for this month to 46 with the oldest woman being 77 years old, arrested for intimidation, and the youngest being 15 years old, arrested for the possession of drugs. A 69-year-old woman was also arrested after she was found with 45 litres of alcohol at her home in Sugarloaf Street, Manenberg.
Captain Bennett said what the community needed to remember was that behind every gang boss was a woman who knew the gang operation inside and out. He said many women had taken over their husbands’ or partners’ businesses when they died or were sent to prison.
“Gangs use women because women are not likely to be searched. When there are drug raids in the area, police don’t often search women. They look for men as the gang bosses. For every gang boss, there is a woman that no one knows about,” said Captain Bennett.
He said while many women had achieved great things in their lifetime and were standing tall and becoming more powerful in society, it meant nothing to women who had been living in the township areas where they are challenged with hardship and poverty, as well as lack of educational opportunities which often led to the suffering of domestic violence.
“This should be seen as the struggles of women and not to look at women as criminals.
“The question should be how do we set it right and give every woman an opportunity to achieve and strive beyond her circumstances?
“Educating our women and girls is still lacking in these poverty-stricken areas which makes it gang infested.
“I am of the belief that no man will ever understand the passion of a woman when she nurtures, grows, defends, cares, and then makes the plan and commits murder,” he said.
He also said many women had left their homes at a young age and had been encouraged by other women to get involved with prostitution. They became involved with gangs and got addicted to drugs, and because they had no money, they paid for it with their bodies.
“Let’s start looking at securing, educating our girls so that they can take up their rightful roles as women, mothers and wives which will in turn make our boys responsible men and courageous husbands,” Captain Bennett added.
Cathy Karassellos, clinical psychologist at the Cape Town Drug Centre in Observatory, said over the past 30 years the number of women who had been treated by the centre had remained consistent.
From January to July this year, 59 women were treated for drug abuse out of a total of 299 drug addicts.
When asked what the main reasons were for drug addiction, Ms Karassellos said most drug addicts suffered from a predisposition, meaning that they had an underlying problem which was likely to result in drug abuse. This could be encouraged through genetics where the drug addict’s parents were drug users.
Other contributing factors were that it was easily available in the community, as well as the challenges that came with single motherhood, which could contribute to drug abuse.
Ms Karassellos said the physical affects on most tik users were drastic weight loss, tooth decay, and constant coughing. Tik users often suffered from mood swings – after use they would feel very happy and later depressed and irritable. They would display obsessive behaviour as they tried to find their next fix.
Ms Karassellos said about 17 people around the drug addict were affected – including their parents, grandparents, and children.
“Most of the women who are drug users, are in their 20s, are either pregnant or have young children. This means that the foetus is likely to be affected and it has shown that babies born to tik mothers are smaller and experience learning difficulties, including ADHD,” she said.
The community in turn suffers, according to Ms Karassellos, due to the theft committed by drug addicts in order to get their next fix. Motor vehicle theft and shoplifting were the major crimes in these case.
“Drug addicts are taken out of the work force which is in turn a skill loss for the community. That is the youth and their futures that are not being cared for, so their skills fade away,” she said.