Vice Law and Policy: A New Approach for South Africa? (Books)

African Business, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Vice Law and Policy: A New Approach for South Africa? (Books)


RAINBOW VICE

BY TED LEGGETT

R98.95 (inc. VAT)

David Philip (SA)

ISBN 0-86486-503-1

After more than five years working in South Africa with the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Prevention (UNODCCP) - as well as editing the Crime and Conflict Quarterly journal - author Dave Leggett has used his expertise in a highly specialised branch of development studies to write this book.

His work with the UNODCCP initially took him to Johannesburg to research the drug markets of that city, later sponsoring research on the relationship between drug use, sex work and HIV. The ISS, together with EU funding, made it possible for him to investigate Cape Town's illicit drug markets and the University of Natal sponsored his research in Durban.

The author is a white American male academic, and this raises the question of what qualifies him to comment on South Africa's vice industry. He tells us that he was brought up in the US around drugs and prostitution, spent some years working and living in a New York shelter for homeless women (the younger of whom were mainly crack cocaine or heroin addicted prostitutes), and had a stint as a prosecutor in the Compton district - then the world's headquarters for crack cocaine. This background has given him, he claims, sensitivity towards police issues and sympathy for the problems of the criminal justice system.

Leggett advocates a controversial approach. He describes his policy recommendations as 'rather bold'. Many would describe them as startlingly radical, at least before they read this study which coolly and objectively strips away many of the many misconceptions surrounding the drugs and sex industry.

LIVING THE EXPERIENCE

To begin with, Leggett makes clear that he believes that for too long the laws and policies that sought to control illicit drugs and prostitution in South Africa (and elsewhere) have been formulated by people who actually know very little about the people whose lives they are affecting. They are based on an over-simplistic understanding of human nature, and are paternalistic and demeaning to the people who bear the consequences.

Recognising this, Philips places an emphasis on the interviews and focus groups he has conducted with sex workers, drug users, drug dealers, drug counsellors, pimps, brothel owners and law enforcement personnel. He also devoted much time to what he describes as 'passive observation'. This required him to live in areas where sex and drugs are sold. Typically, these areas are decaying inner city districts that house the 'sleazy hotels' providing daily accommodation for sex workers and drug dealers. These districts have rapidly become South Africa's central nexus in the trade of illicit drugs as well as related enterprises such as prostitution, fraud, theft and robbery.

As radical as Leggett's policy recommendations are, he tackles the task of explaining the problems in an academic manner and describes a pragmatic approach to social problems. Whether discussing South Africa's burgeoning 'rave' and 'club' drug cultures, or indigenous marijuana consumption, he advocates a 'harm reduction' approach to illicit drugs and calls for every effort to be made to stop the problems before they manifest themselves. Where these problems cannot be stopped, he calls for finding creative ways to deal with the risks.

He readily admits that the debate is complicated further still in a complex country such as South Africa which has a vice situation unlike that of any other country in the world. Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than the 'white pipe' syndrome - the abuse of the powerful sedative Mandrax in South Africa. No other country in the world has a similar problem with this drug.

Leggett reminds us that in the late 1980s, Mandrax comprised 70% of all drug seizures, with marijuana accounting for 20% and all other drugs combined less than 10%. …

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