GDPO Working Paper Series
Working Paper No.4 (August 2018)

By Shaun Shelly & Simon Howell

The fourth South African National Drug Master Plan (NDMP), for the period covering 2018-2022, will be released in 2018. The plan, developed by the Central Drug Authority (CDA), is intended to ‘outline the contribution and role of various government departments at national and provincial level in fighting the scourge of substance abuse.’ 1 Theoretically the document is mandated to provide South Africa’s national, overarching policy framework with which to inform the country’s response to the use of drugs on all fronts – including the broad strategy for the reduction of the distribution and supply of drugs, as well as the interdepartmental framework for the resolution of substance use disorders and the mitigation of harm related to the use of substances in general.

While these sentiments are laudable and in line with international best practice at the most general level, read in the context of the pragmatic realities of governance in South Africa, it seems however that the CDA and indeed the NDMP have been unduly influenced by both international and local political and moral agendas, the result of which is that both the integrity of the process and outcome have been compromised. In addition, and as has been shown previously, the recommendations of the CDA and the policy directives of the NDMP have largely ignored and even contradicted by various government departments and stakeholders. As a result, the ‘war on drugs’ approach (which both in South Africa and beyond is one that finds its pragmatic realisation as a war on often marginalised people) may have been abandoned at the level of policy, but is still very much a reality on the ground. Both the development of the NDMP 2018-2022 and the recommendations of the CDA can therefore be seen as seemingly meaningless – window dressing at best – when predicting the impacts of South Africa’s response to drugs and drug use on the lives of people who use drugs, and the communities they live in. We aim here to sound a warning knell, that unless there are significant changes to the current processes, the new NDMP (much like the previous versions), will be influenced, ignored, and have little impact.