News | 6 Oct 2021
There is a painful story behind many of the people you see sleeping on the pavements, under bus shelters and on concrete floors in cities around the country. There were once dreams and aspirations behind those weary eyes. Most people walk past blindly, not seeing their humanity. But if one sits closely and listens to their stories, one picks up a human story: of people who long to return to society and accomplish their dreams.
Werner Beukers is a 42-year-old man who has been homeless for the last 10 years due to drug use, attitudes towards people who inject drugs and mental health issues. Beukers has been part NACOSA’s People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) programme, implemented by TB HIV Care, that helps people to use safely. Beukers says:
“I come from a broken family background, the conditions were not good so I resorted to drugs every once in a while, to ease the pain and chase away my worries, until I couldn’t control it. I got chased away from home and ended up on the streets.”
People who inject drugs are mostly ignored, side-lined or chased away by the wider community. They are shamed for their drug use in our society, leading even close family members to cut them off. People who inject drugs are amongst the most marginalised communities, out of reach of the health and social services that other South Africans enjoy. They are unseen by society.
According to a study conducted by Wolfe et al in 2010, it is estimated that there are 67,000 PWID in South Africa and this is about 0,2 % of the population. But the numbers have likely increased substantially since then. The prevalence of drug use and dependency in our country deserves attention. Firstly, through the way society treats and perceives those who use drugs and secondly, through proper healthcare and informed and compassionate treatment centres for those who wish to be come off drugs and lead a more fulfilling life.
People often run away from rehabilitation centres due to the utilisation of unethical or non-evidence-based treatment approaches. Society needs to be equipped with sufficient housing or accommodation for people who are struggling with drug dependence to be reintegrated to society with proper care. “We need to create spaces that are equipped to help restore the dignity of those who are trying to be rehabilitated back into society,” says NACOSA’s Key Populations Specialist, Andrea Schneider.
For us to create a better environment, we need to build a more humane society for those who feel they do not belong and afford them the same quality of services as everyone else. Programmes such as the one run by TB HIV Care are a vital lifeline for people who inject drugs.
We asked Beukers what being part of the programme means:
“Being part of this programme has helped me and most of my peers that I started with in the programme to reintegrate with ourselves a bit, be responsible for our lives and take safer measures when using.”
Society needs to recognise the humanity of people who inject drugs first, then we could get to a more understanding and compassionate environment for people who are struggling with drug dependence. Standing together in the fight for compassionate care for those most marginalised and forgotten would be a great investment for future generations.
Photographs by Cathrin Schulz. Story by Zingisa Mase.