by Reggie Nel, father, husband, wannabe-guitar player for myself, pastor, sports fan (Stormers/WP and the Box) and of course, highly opinionated.
I recently, on the spur of the moment, was commanded by my youngest to go to school and listen to the guy speaking on drug-abuse. Well, actually my wife bought a ticket and couldn’t go. So, I had to go and honestly speaking, it was one of those ‘had-to-go’ ones, because ‘the ticket was bought’, etc. It turned out to be quite an informative (if not sobering and thought-provoking) evening with other parents, who probably were there, also because they well…. ‘had to go’.
The speaker walked, like an evangelist, up and down on the stage, had a cap drawn deep into his eyes, and opened with something like… ‘I am an addict and I am currently committing a criminal offence’. It soon dawned on all of us that he had a cigarette in his hand. Later, he dramatically, (maybe not like the evangelist) lit it and took few puffs, illustrating a little story of how he got started. This was but one of the many funny, yet deeply moving stories he shared with us. For most of us, it could have been just another moralistic diatribe making us, as parents feel guilty again.. Fortunately, (*sigh*)I don’t smoke and do those kinds of stuff, but the story of Steve went deeper.
Steven, having worked in schools for many years, was telling us that our children are exposed to drugs on a daily basis and that, up to 80% of high school kids here in Johannesburg are on one or the other kind of drug. He then continued to share anecdotes of how children in ‘our’ primary school, in his morning session, were able to easily debate on which booze was the best; they knew the labels, the tastes and felt it cool to be into these. For him the fundamental problem was that we as parents deny these realities. For us, it is always those kids, that family and never our very own. We would conveniently ‘other-fy’ the drug addict and go on with business as usual. I could however see, over the crowd of parents, many heads going, ‘wow’, ‘eish’, etc.
Here, we were confronted with a reality that we thought was only possible in the media and Hollywood (Beverley Hills 90210, to be exact), or ‘on the other side’.
I work also in Riverlea, where on an annual basis, in our church community I am privileged to have a little group of 6-7 teenagers (15-17 years) in a little ‘bible class.’ Most of the time, in the face of the ire of parents and the church board, we stray too far from talking about the ten commandments and the teachings of the church, to simply talk about sex, drugs and hip-hop or (these days ‘house’). They like to talk and I like to listen. They are clear: their schools are infested with ‘corruption’ (that’s the words they use). Corruption is amongst others, where, on their school yards, now, drugs of all shapes and sizes, are available. Whether it be ‘sugars’ , coke, weed, ‘rocks’, ‘gafief’… whateva, you want it, you can have it. Teachers, in their view, are impotent to deal with this, the police useless, because, according to them they are as corrupt as the ‘merchands’. These young people tell me that they are clean, but it’s a tough-tough world to go out of your house and attend school. The stuff that Steve, is sharing is for real!
I wondered, what lies at the heart of this? Why would young people, want to consciously become ‘throw-away people’? Why would they want to collectively become the prey of highly efficient, highly connected criminal syndicates, bend on selling young bodies at the highest bidder. This, of course is an age-old question. To present drug abuse, and young people, today, as wild, urban folk devils will not adequately deal with the deeper roots of this collective suicide. It simply denies the fact that there might be deeper structural roots, i.e. community and cultural patterns that drive them towards depression, a loss of vision, but also a loss of internal reference points, to chart their way. I think that the current surge of consumerism, where one’s identity is formed by the trappings of wealth, remain one of the key drivers of a loss of community and a morphing of our identities from communally (family) based towards consumer based. This is not an easy matter. In fact, having said this, I would concede that the encroachment of the current world system on families, on our children is much more pervasive and powerful then we think. Perhaps its more powerful than what parents or church communities currently can handle. Its not simply a medical condition to be sorted out by an institution… the roots go deeper in the kind of system where, even church communities, or schools, have become efficient corporations, at the expense of deep community. We are faced with a culture, which prizes boozing and where advertising campaigns have deadened our sensitivities to softer (legal)drugs, in the pursuit of profits, our ultimate human achievement. For those that fell through the cracks, who simply did not fit these categories, or who simply failed to make the system work, the only solution is to become the consumer… to doze off and eventually are consumed by this system.
This talk by Steven was sobering. It lead, at least this parent, to think again, to hope and pray again that his teenagers might not fall prey. It challenged me again to look deeper into our lifestyles and what we hold dear. Perhaps, we all need had-to go experiences, forced upon us, by our children, to challenge us, even as parents, to listen and to be changed.