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TRADE: 2010 Soccer World Cup May See More Snorting than Kicking

Stephanie Nieuwoudt

CAPE TOWN, Sep 1 2009 (IPS) - It is the middle of the day but 25-year-old Lyle Arendse of Athlone on the Cape Flats, Cape Town’s sprawling hinterland, is at home. He left school nearly 10 years ago and has since been unemployed. "It is because of drugs — tik (methamphetamine or "crystal meth") and heroin — that I left school," he acknowledges.

"I was not doing well academically because all I could think about was getting my next fix." He stopped using drugs about 18 months ago. "I realised that no one cared for me anymore. I lost the trust of the people close to me because I stole from them to support my habit. My girlfriend left me and my father wants nothing to do with me."

Arendse may be "clean" but he is still cautious about going out and he chooses his friends carefully. "I cannot go to the places I used to hang out before. I know there are dealers there and I don’t know if I am strong enough yet to resist them. I try to keep busy by cleaning my aunt’s house. She took me in when I had nowhere else to go.

"I go out with my cousins because I feel safe with them. They will not let me use drugs."

Arendse is one of millions of South Africans who face the lure of drugs daily. But it might become even more difficult to resist the temptation during the frenzy of the FIFA World Cup Soccer championship in June 2010.

The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and South Africa’s Central Drug Authority (CDA) recently warned that drug cartels could use the international event — that will see over 400,000 sport-crazy visitors flock to the country — to bring in large amounts of drugs.

At a recent media conference Dr Jonathan Lucas, regional representative of the UNODC, pointed out the difficulty of adequately policing drug activities in South Africa with high levels of corruption in the police and among border officials. There is also a lack of adequate crime intelligence.

"Drug trafficking always increases with big events – in Germany the trade and use in drugs increased during the World Cup that was held there in 2006," David Bayever, deputy chairperson of the CDA, a statutory body which advises government on substance abuse issues, tells IPS in an interview.

"It is of concern to us that the open-air screening of matches will attract thousands of spectators where vendors will grab the opportunity to sell drugs."

According to Bayever, South Africa is on the drug trafficking transit route from South America to Asia and it has also become a lucrative market for drug cartels operating regionally. The value of the drugs passing through the country is estimated at about four billion dollars annually. Drugs are also brought into the country from East and West Africa.

Dr Roger Meyer of the Kenilworth rehabilitation centre in the Western Cape province tells IPS that the clinic is putting structures in place to ensure that it is adequately resourced for emergency drug treatments during the World Cup.

"We always go the extra length whenever there is an international event in Cape Town," Meyer explained. "The World Cup is a hugely lucrative event which will attract business people from across the spectrum. I am sure that these include people who make profit from the illicit drug industry."

The security forces are also making preparations. "We have a plan in place which involves the South African Police Services, the defence force, the revenue services, harbour and airport authorities," Vish Naidoo, national police spokesperson, tells IPS. "We will not only be on the alert for illicit drugs, but also for illicit firearms and the movement of undocumented persons.

"There will be 41,000 dedicated police officers experienced in policing major events on duty. We are also working closely with different countries to identify known criminals to prevent them from entering South Africa."

But all these measures do not impress Arendse. "There are lots of drugs in South Africa already. It is easy to manufacture tik, and it is cheap. For (three dollars) you can buy enough tik for at least five hits. And it is easy to find in clubs, on street corners and in some of the most beautiful houses."

Bayever agrees: "Drug usage among South Africans is twice the world norm." South Africa spends about 18 million dollars a year on rehabilitation and other related expenses.

According to a report by the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU), a body that researches drug abuse in the country, 2,807 patients were treated in the Western Cape province during June to December 2008.

In KwaZulu-Natal province on the country’s east coast, 1,537 patients were treated and in Gauteng province, the country’s economic heartland, there were 3,158 admissions to treatment centres during the same period. In the Western Cape, 12 percent of those treated were students or of school-going age while in Gauteng the figure was 18 percent.

According to SACENDU, cannabis is the most common illegal substance of abuse. However, in the Western Cape methamphetamine is the most common substance among patients younger than 20 years. Other substances abused are cocaine and crack, heroin, ecstasy and LSD.

Figures given by Bayever indicate that there are 3,2 million cannabis users in South Africa while 300,000 people use cocaine and 320,000 use narcotics such as tik and ecstasy regularly.

Meyer says that, "in dispossessed communities jobs are scarce. The drug industry seems like a way out. The kingpins are often those who seem to have made it – they drive around in big cars and live in big houses.

"Young people from these communities might see these people as role models and become ‘runners’ for them in the hope of going up in the ranks, eventually lifting themselves out of poverty."

The World Cup is not only an exciting opportunity for soccer fans.

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