By Phumlani Malinga
The release of the Paper on Drug Use and City Government by the Global Commission on Drug Policy was a great opportunity to establish credibility, spark conversations and change the narrative about people who use drugs in the media. The focus of the coverage was to showcase the expertise of the South African Network of People Who Use Drugs in assisting public institutions in developing human focused research informed sustainable ways of dealing with the increase in numbers and visibility of people who use drugs.
In a conversation on Early Breakfast with Africa Melane the focus was on composition of the commission, the recommendations from the paper and an evaluation of how the different major cities in South Africa fared in their response to drug use. Having the Chairman of the South African Network Of People Who Use Drugs provide an analysis of the document as well as the response of South African cities positions the organisation as a thought leader in its field. This gives the organisation the credibility it needs when calling for shifts in policy making and implementation, not only in the eyes of the beneficiaries, but also in the wider public. The programme is broadcast in Gauteng and the Western Cape and includes policy makers and other influential members of society, who will now associate SANPUD as being part of an agenda to set international trends in effectively and sustainably dealing with drug use.
Regional radio stations are always important in changing the narrative about people who use drugs because they can focus on what actions are being taken locally and interrogate their implications for residents. This was the point of the interviews with Benito Vergotine on The Honest Truth on Smile 90.4FM and The Morning Review with Lester Kiewit on CapeTalk. There was more on the impact of the implementation of harm reduction services and the attitudes of people in local communities.
Benito and Lester has hosted a discussion on the increase in the complaints about inappropriately discarded needles and could provide both a policy context and responses from local communities in his discussion of the report. The discussion of the ‘not in my backyard’ community response as well as the pragmatic approach that local governments are employing in dealing with drug use were explored as international trends rather than colloquial pettiness. This allows the listeners to appreciate that they are not alone in dealing with this issue and have lessons from which to draw from other cities in the world.
National television interviews always have the widest reach and a cross section of the population, including decision makers and the affected people. The interviews always spark further conversation as they are usually the first time that some people hear of a certain phenomenon and helps them contextualise their local experience. The interview with Peter Ndoro on SABC Globe, was such an interview. Peter used the opportunity to explore the shift in the global response from punitive measures in dealing with people who use drugs to more humane and support entrenched measures.
This interview sparked a further interview where the chairman of the South African Network of People Who Use Drugs was used to provide thought leadership on approaches to help people deal with substance abuse in an interview on SABC Today on the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking 2021.