Let's save our children from dying like Amy Winehouse
All parents would like to see their children grow up and become useful members of society. This is what has driven me to speak about our pain when our first-born son veered from a normal life.
It was only after he failed matric twice that we discovered he had been a drug user and addict since grade 5.
He would have been around 11 or 12 years old at the time.
We became aware of his drug use through his peers at high school, but we had already become suspicious. His performance at school had gradually deteriorated from best performer to average - and ultimately a worst performer in matric.
We had become puzzled at the disappearance of home appliances and expensive toys belonging to his siblings, like a Sony PlayStation.
Television sets vanished, as did video recorders and sound systems, his younger brother's clothes - even bottles of expensive liquor .
When we found out the truth, we persuaded him to go to a rehab centre where he spent about six months .
When he came back we thought our difficulties were over. But after a month or two, he was back on the drug trail. He said the environment in Nelspruit was not conducive for him to stay clean; he pestered us to let him live with his biological mother in Witbank. There, he said, the supply of drugs was "not as huge".
In Witbank he got worse and stole appliances and groceries.
On his return to Nelspruit he started living on the street. We again made efforts to take him to rehab.
When he returned again, we organised with some of our friends to have him employed by their company in Johannesburg.
He fooled us all by pretending he was clean. But then he started stealing from them and from his co-workers. Then, as usual, he disappeared.
Again, he lived on the streets until we found him and took him to rehab after talking to him at great length. He came back and pretended to be "a good person and clean".
But it was only a matter of time. When he stole money we had put aside to pay for his school fees for his siblings, we took him to the police and brought a complaint of theft against him.
After a few weeks, we withdrew the complaint - but he was back at the police station after robbing someone else.
We have lost count of how many times we took him to rehab. At one stage we enrolled him at a further education and training college and paid all the fees. But he was there only a month before disappearing into the streets.
It was then that I said to his mother, stepmother and siblings that I would have nothing to do with him until he decided what to do with his own life.
I believe as a family we have done everything possible to help my son and support him. I told him I had reached the point of walking away from him - and the only way he could come back into my life was when he proved he could lead a life without drugs.
I even told him that if he did not change his ways, we would be available only to bury him.
I said these things - and they hurt me. But what do you do as a parent to save your kid from this disruptive life? What do you do when you have other kids who need your parental love, support and look up to you?
We have received a message of support from Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I was fortunate to receive a prayer from the Arch and I believe that he was not only praying for me but all parents in a similar situation.
I believe that as a country we need to close the drug supply line. I believe we need to remove the suppliers from our streets, our schools and our public and private places.
If not, we will not win this war against drugs and we will most likely have a lost generation. I believe my son is already in that category.
We need to have a way of coming together to fight this scourge. We need to form forums and associations to help in the war against drugs.
We feel - and live - the pain of being the parents of children who are drug addicts. The time to stand up is now.
Let us not have a host of Amy Winehouses in South Africa.
We must come together, work with our government agencies and institutions. We owe this to our country and our children.
- Jackson Mthembu is the national spokesman of the ANC
Does YOUR child need help?
If you have a child or know of someone who is in dire need of help to fight a drug addiction, contact the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drugs at centres countrywide or dial the helpline: 0861 173 422