Taking strain: theorising drug use in the cape flats

05 May 2017

In the Western Cape Province of South Africa, illicit drug trade, substance abuse and gangsterism continue to produce deleterious physical, emotional and psychological effects on residents in the Cape Flats,1 as well as contributing to high crime rates, violence, sexual abuse, injury, traffic accidents, and increasing dysfunctional family and community life. The preponderance of both governmental and private drug abuse clinics and counselling centres in the Western Cape, signals the seriousness of the problem in this locale. Yet the drug problem in the Western Cape is reported to be worsening and has led to substance abuse being regarded as a major health and social problem. In particular, of all patients seeking treatment for drug use, adolescents make up the highest percentage, and report an increasing consumption of methamphetamine (?tik?) as their main substance of abuse. This article derives from a qualitative study of a community in the Cape Flats. Rich data was elicited from three sources: viz. walkabouts and field note taking, observations (video), and semi-structured interviews with 13 members of the community in the Cape Flats. Underpinned by Social Disorganisation Theory (SDT) and General Strain Theory (GST), this article attempts to understand how the strains within the following two contexts impel illicit drug use in the Cape Flats, viz.: 1) the physical and social environment of a community; 2) family and interpersonal relationships.