A Story of Hope…

“I’ve been popular and unpopular, successful and unsuccessful,loved and loathed, and I know how meaningless it all is.Therefore, I feel free to take whatever risks I want.” Madonna

A Story of Hope: As told by Hellen Zille:

Outliers – The story of Masibambane High School

In his best-selling book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell seeks to unravel “the story of success” – exceptional success, not just great achievement.

He defines an outlier as a “statistical observation that is markedly different from the norm” and asks: why do some people achieve so much more than others? How come they lie so far outside the ordinary? What is the secret of their success? He tries to find the answers by examining the lives, times and circumstances of legendary figures like Bill Gates, the Beatles and various sports stars.

In each case, he finds the fortuitous combination of three key factors:

• Opportunity;
• Natural ability combined with enormous personal effort; and
• The proverbial “hand of fate” – a confluence of circumstances that make exceptional things possible.

I decided to test Gladwell’s thesis after the recent release of matric results. It is appropriate to use the term “Outlier” to describe a 17-year old boy, who lives in a backyard shack with his single mother and three siblings, and achieves 7 distinctions in matric, including 97% for higher grade mathematics and the top award in the Western Cape for life sciences.

A shy, finely-built young man, Asavela Rawe arrived at the annual “matric achievers” ceremony in the school uniform of Masibambane high school. As I handed him his award (in my capacity as Premier), I resolved to find out what lay behind his exceptional achievement. When his classmate Monde Simbosini (three distinctions and 98% for higher grade mathematics) was also honoured, I was even more determined to find out more about the school that serves the poverty-stricken community of Bloekombos and achieved a 95% pass rate with 24 subject distinctions.

The purpose of my investigation was to address this simple question: what is the government’s role in creating the circumstances that offer children the opportunity to excel? If this can happen in Masibambane, what must we do to enable it to happen elsewhere? How much of Asavela and Monde’s academic success can be attributed to opportunity, intelligence, personal effort, and plain good luck?

During my investigation, I concluded that all these factors played a role, each a tributary flowing into a river, reinforcing one another to create the momentum for exceptional achievement.

Having sourced the cell number of the school’s principal, Mr Rajan Naidoo, I gave him a call. I apologized for phoning him on a Friday evening during the school holidays.

“No, no”, he replied. “I am at school. We always start the matrics a week early, so that they settle into the learning programme before the other pupils arrive.”

That said a lot about the ethos of Masibambane.

I asked Mr Naidoo if I could visit the school, and possibly meet the key matric teachers and the chair of the governing body. I also enquired whether it would be possible to speak to Asavela and Monde as well. “Come tomorrow morning at 11,” he replied without hesitation. The next day, Mr Naidoo welcomed me to the school accompanied by his daughter, Vinolia, a second year law student. She reminded me that we had met before at the opening of the state-of-the-art operating theatres at Red Cross Children’s hospital. I then recalled the lovely, petite young woman who had given a moving speech about the doctors and staff that had saved her life through a combined liver and kidney transplant.

While doctors were battling to save his daughter’s life, her father, then a deputy school principal in Durban, had applied for teaching posts in Cape Town, so that he could be near his desperately ill child. He was appointed principal at Masibambane in 2003, at that time one of the weakest schools in the Western Cape.

“The hand of fate”, I thought to myself as I applied Gladwell’s thesis.

On the final weekend of the holidays, the school property was a hive of activity – a gardener weeding, a cleaner sweeping and a handyman painting a classroom. “We are preparing for the opening of school next week” he said as he showed me the stacks of text books and stationery ready for distribution on day one.

He proudly walked me around his school, formerly a derelict provincial building which was converted into a school in 2001. He explained how he had driven each improvement, including a sports field with an embankment where pupils can sit and cheer their teams. There is a computer laboratory, a science laboratory, a small library (with a rack for daily newspapers), a kitchen for the feeding scheme, a new hall and toilets. The absence of any sign of vandalism was striking.

“Opportunity,” I thought to myself. Decent basic facilities are necessary to create opportunity, but entirely insufficient on their own. What Mr Naidoo said next, delivered in his characteristic matter-of-fact way, demonstrated why Masibambane is a school capable of producing “outliers”.

“When Vinolia came out of hospital, I wanted her to be near me, so I enrolled her here, at Masibambane,” he said. “I believe principals should be prepared to enrol their own children in their schools, to show they have confidence in the quality of the education they are providing for other children”.

He paused and added: “Vinolia was probably the first Indian child to attend a township school.”

We entered the new administration building, where a small gathering was waiting at a table laid with refreshments.

There I was introduced to Mr Yusif Sium, the school’s mathematics teacher; Mr Andre Kleinschmidt, who teaches physics and life sciences; Mr Shimeless Zeleke the maths literacy teacher; Mr Phumzile Dosi, the English teacher and grade 12 co-ordinator; Mr Thabiso Motsana the life orientation teacher; and Mr Michael Vena, the chair of the school governing body. There were also the star pupils, Asavela and Monde, together with Asavela’s mother, Lungiswa, who works at the “fruit and veg” section of Checkers in Kraaifontein. She told me she had not seen Asavela’s father since her baby was one month old. “That is why I say he died,” she said. Monde’s parents were visiting family in the Eastern Cape.

Mr Naidoo told me he and the governing body applied a strict “merit selection” policy when recommending teachers for positions at the school.

It was not always that way.

“When I came to this school, I confronted a governing body that had a different approach. Some were even prepared to accept bribes from applicants to be nominated for positions. Everything was politicised. It was difficult to change that approach. We had some conflict about it. But I knew the school would only succeed if we applied merit selection”. He recalls the backing and support he received from an outstanding senior circuit manager, Mrs Ntombi Dwane, who helped him implement the new policy.

“Today I follow a strict policy of keeping party politics out of this school. We take decisions on their merits. We employ our staff on the basis of their ability to teach our pupils,” Mr Naidoo emphasized.

This was immediately apparent as I spoke to the teachers. Their own stories show an astounding confluence of excellence and effort, influenced by the inevitable “hand of fate”. Mr Sium, for example, is an Eritrean studying actuarial science part-time at the University of Cape Town. He earns his living as Masibambane’s maths teacher.

The team ethos and mutual support were tangible. But the greatest insights came from the pupils themselves.

Asavela and Monde told me how they were able to stay at school until 9 o’clock at night, so that they could study in an environment conducive to learning. They negotiated the after-hours use of their classrooms with teachers, and worked in groups to assist others with their homework. Prefects were given the responsibility of locking up when they left. They were accountable for the state of the premises the next day.

Then Asavela made the following observation: “Monde and I would not have done so well if we were not competing with one another. We are good friends, but also competitors. That helped a lot. We will carry on as friendly competitors when we go to University.” Both will study actuarial science at UCT next year, and Mr Sium has made a commitment to continue teaching and supporting them.

I asked Mrs Rawe whether we could visit her home – two shacks in the backyard of an RDP house in Bloekombos. Her baby was asleep on her bed. She told me the tiny premature boy had spent 5 months in Tygerberg hospital, where she had remained with him. With his mother away, Asavela had spent most of his matric year taking personal responsibility for his younger siblings as well as himself. All of his belongings, including the computer he had won as a prize for his matric results, were neatly stacked in a small pile at the bottom of his narrow bed. I realised that he had come to the matric achievers function in his school uniform because it was probably the only suitable outfit he had.

Above his pillow, he had written on the shack wall in red koki: “A true gentleman is a true genius in calculation. A true legend lives on”. Those words gave him inspiration, he told me.

We then went on to visit Monde’s house. He lives with his siblings in a backyard shack of his parents’ RDP house, where he shares a bed with his brother.

The rest of the space in the shack is taken up by a rickety home-made table on which stands an ancient Dell computer.

“You must never get rid of that computer,” Asavela said to Monde. “That computer helped us to succeed”.

Monde told me that his uncle had been given the computer by his employers when they upgraded their systems. Together Monde and Asavela set it up – and through their own efforts turned this stroke of luck into yet another opportunity. At school, during the day, they downloaded matric papers and worked on them late into the night, on the old computer in the shack. “The computer kept freezing, but we kept starting it again,” said Monde.

That comment captured it all.

We often talk about the “opportunity” society. On that Saturday I saw what this idea can mean when opportunity meets singular human effort. The key priority of any government is to create real opportunities for all, so that people can use them.

It is true that “Outliers” like Asavela and Monde cannot be used as the yardstick for the rest of society. But the story of Masibambane as a school is a demonstration that many young people, of average ability, can become part of the “story of success”. There is no reason why this cannot become South Africa’s story too.

Notes: And so many of us in Recovery have become ‘success stories’ through the ‘Miracle of Recovery’… and it is time that we start sharing our stories … We are Living Proof that Recovery IS a Reality.


Revovery IS a Reality – Letter to the Editor

Letter published in the Cape Argus, Monday June 29th 2009, pg. 11.

The Editor                                                                                      27June 2009

Cape Argus

Dear Sir,


We all know about the destructiveness of drug abuse, and every week we read about more horrors, more violence, more crime that is directly attributed to drug abuse.

The disease of alcohol and drug abuse – described by some experts as a ‘social health nightmare –  is an epidemic of global proportions affecting millions of individuals, families, work places and communities.

The number of young people engaged in drug experimentation and regular use is alarming and demands urgent attention.

Addiction wreaks devastation, and respects no boundaries of income, race, occupation or geography. Crime is out of hand, and more than 80% of reported crime is drug related. Violence is entrenched in our families and more than 70% of gender abuse is drug related.

A conservative estimate of the health and other social cost associated with drug abuse in South Africa is R 12 billion per year. Drug trafficking also continue to foment corruption, one of the most formidable obstacles to good governance.

Yet, having just observed the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking last Friday, the silence about addiction is entrenched in communities, workplaces, our churches, and in our homes.

This monster is living in our homes, yet we still ignore its presence.

It is easy for people to talk about their heart disease or kidney disease or diabetes or hypertension. Yet, the Disease of Addiction?

Generally our society still views drinking and drug use as a behaviour of choice or a moral failing instead of a health issue.

People impacted by addiction are reticent about asking for help as society at large still perpetuating norms that foster shame and stigma.

We tend to think of alcohol and drug problems in terms of junkies and alcoholics who need to be treated to overcome their addiction.

Of course providing treatment is important because it is likely to benefit treated individuals, yet it is not enough.

No matter how effective treatment is for the individual, if the family and community dynamics contributing to these problems are unchanged, it will do little to reduce the overall level of harm experienced at the family and community level.

Our health system traditionally addresses addiction when a crisis occurs: car wrecks, violence, criminal arrests, or firing from a job.

We act as though entry to a treatment centre is the beginning of the disease. The illness’s emerging symptoms and the remarkable fact or recovery remain below society’s awareness level. Both aspects of this inattention breed the ignorance and misinformation that cost us all so much pain and money.

Responding to the symptoms of addiction when they present themselves is consistent with the fact that alcoholism and drug addiction is a primary, chronic, and progressive disease.

Early awareness and early intervention lead to early recovery. Better education and life skills are needed to inform young people about the devastating effects of drugs, and to help them resist the pressures to experiment.

Efforts need to be in place to raise awareness.  Drugs are illegal because they are a problem, and not a problem because they are illegal. Drug education is HIV/Aids prevention.

Governments, NGO’s, schools, the workplace and the media must work hand-in-hand. Our collective efforts must focus especially on young people through education, outreach, peer-to-peer networks, and using platforms such as such as sport, music and entertainment that inspire young people.

Equally important is to engage parents, teachers and employers to play their part in full. Our efforts also require working to reduce supply. The light of science and not the darkness of fear and ignorance should guide these efforts.

Individuals and families who have survived addiction should now become visible and vocal stakeholders. Recovery is a Reality.

The good news is that today we enjoy a generation of people in recovery that is ready and willing to speak out and take on the role of mentors.

History teaches us that the voices of survivors, their family members and allies drive public responses to major illness.

Addiction is no exception. Recovery from addiction is happening for thousands of South Africans – rich and poor, young and old, executives and school drop-outs, women and men, black and white, country and city dwellers.

Achieving a stable, productive and fulfilling life is, in fact, a reality when proven solutions are applied. Appropriately diagnosed and treated cases of addiction yield many happy outcomes: Recovery happens. Families heal. Money is saved. Life gets better. Recovering people give back. Everyone wins.

We need to take responsibility to heal ourselves, our families and our communities. We need to embrace the hope of recovery, and  the spirit of courage, knowing  that Recovery is a Reality!

Yours Faithfully,

Jurgens Smit

Executive Director



International Drug Awareness Day – 26 June 09

Call for Action

Call for Action

26 June 09 – International Drug Awareness Day.



The Heroes of Recovery

Beyond Addiction: The will to change

It seems as if people will do just about anything to garner attention, fame or fortune. But those weren’t Aron Lee Ralston’s goals when he sawed off his hand with a makeshift multi-tool after becoming pinned by a boulder in the backcountry of Utah six years ago. All he wanted to do was live.

His true grit has made him a celebrity, a best-selling author and a motivational speaker. In The New York Times recently, Ralston said the experience has changed him. “It was a blessing in a way,” he said. “It made me think about the way I was living.”

Ralston’s case is a prime example of the opportunity that comes from adversity. By cutting off his hand, he changed his whole life. Courage can’t be quantified. Ralston deserves everything he’s got today.

But his story is not unique, though it isn’t often that people resort to chopping off limbs to free themselves of what otherwise might kill them. I know scores of people who, like Ralston, faced adversity and were desperate to live — who were pinned down by circumstances unforeseen and unjustified, who made it because they had the courage to cut off those parts of themselves that held them back from the freedom of life.

They’re called addicts and alcoholics who have embraced recovery. And like Ralston, they survive day after day only because at the moment of their deepest crises, at the bottom, they discovered the strength to reach deep into themselves to tap a superhuman ability to make tough choices. By giving away parts of themselves, they’ve been restored. They survive.

But you won’t read about them in the newspaper or online. They don’t garner five-figure fees for speeches or write books that are bought by millions of people. Heck, rarely do they even seek public attention. Yet I believe it is time for people in recovery to stand up and speak out and for the public to pay attention.

Ralston made a conscious choice to hike in the Utah wilderness alone without telling anybody where he was. And while a few critics call him a “heedless fool” for not weighing the life-threatening risks of his deliberate choices, to most of us he is a genuine hero, somebody we admire.

Addicts and alcoholics made conscious choices, too — to drink or take drugs, usually without telling anybody. Their critics call them “bad” or “evil” or “weak-willed” and wage a “war on drugs” against them. Nobody admires them or calls them heroes.

Why? Because while Ralston was ready to tell his story — even admitting his foolishness — people in recovery remain invisible or silently anonymous or in the shadows of addiction’s stigma, preferring to share their stories only among themselves, usually in 12-step meetings. The result is that the public cannot grasp the indiscriminate power of addiction or what it takes in terms of sacrifice, personal responsibility and hard work on the parts of addicts and alcoholics to make recovery a reality by changing their entire lives. How can people admire or be inspired by what they can’t see?

Every day in this country, addicts and alcoholics make decisions to cut off essential components of their existences: the alcohol or other drugs that defined their lives. Like Ralston, they don’t do it to become heroes or make money or sell books. They do it simply because they want to live. What they give up in those moments comes back to them in what they gain from the rest of their lives. It is a lesson too many others who struggle with addiction have yet to realize because nobody has told them.

William Moyers

“Exploring Myths about Drug Abuse”

Myth 1: Drug addiction is voluntary behavior.
A person starts out as an occasional drug user, and that is a voluntary decision. But as times passes, something happens, and that person goes from being a voluntary drug user to being a compulsive drug user. Why? Because over time, continued use of addictive drugs changes your brain — at times in dramatic, toxic ways, at others in more subtle ways, but virtually always in ways that result in compulsive and even uncontrollable drug use.
Myth 2: More than anything else, drug addiction is a character flaw.
Drug addiction is a brain disease. Every type of drug of abuse has its own individual mechanism for changing how the brain functions. But regardless of which drug a person is addicted to, many of the effects it has on the brain are similar: they range from changes in the molecules and cells that make up the brain, to mood changes, to changes in memory processes and in such motor skills as walking and talking. And these changes have a huge influence on all aspects of a person’s behavior. The drug becomes the single most powerful motivator in a drug abuser’s existence. He or she will do almost anything for the drug. This comes about because drug use has changed the individual’s brain and its functioning in critical ways.
Myth 3: You have to want drug treatment for it to be effective.
Virtually no one wants drug treatment. Two of the primary reasons people seek drug treatment are because the court ordered them to do so, or because loved ones urged them to seek treatment. Many scientific studies have shown convincingly that those who enter drug treatment programs in which they face “high pressure” to confront and attempt to surmount their addiction do comparatively better in treatment, regardless of the reason they sought treatment in the first place.
Myth 4: Treatment for drug addiction should be a one-shot deal.
Like many other illnesses, drug addiction typically is a chronic disorder. To be sure, some people can quit drug use “cold turkey,” or they can quit after receiving treatment just one time at a rehabilitation facility. But most of those who abuse drugs require longer-term treatment and, in many instances, repeated treatments.
Myth 5: We should strive to find a “magic bullet” to treat all forms of drug abuse.
There is no “one size fits all” form of drug treatment, much less a magic bullet that suddenly will cure addiction. Different people have different drug abuse-related problems. And they respond very differently to similar forms of treatment, even when they’re abusing the same drug. As a result, drug addicts need an array of treatments and services tailored to address their unique needs.

Thanks to: Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health

Teens in South Africa Smoke Anti-Retroviral Drug for Cheap High

No Turning Back’: Teens Abuse HIV Drugs

A drug intended to treat HIV and AIDS is sweeping the townships of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is cheap and powerfully addictive.

South Africa has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world and KwaZulu-Natal province has the highest rate in South Africa — 40 percent. For the infected, anti-retroviral drugs, or ARVs, are the only things standing between life and a painful death.

The drug is so cheap and plentiful, thanks in part to a well-meaning effort by the American government to distribute ARV’, a program that has helped extend the lives of more than 500,000 AIDS patients.
But as the medical director of one U.S.-funded clinic said, ARV abuse is threatening to turn an HIV success story into a health crisis.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” said Dr. Njabulo Masabo, from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “It’s extremely, you know, discouraging because on one end you’re trying to fight this epidemic that has ravaged the world so much … the results are catastrophic.”

How ARV abuse began is uncertain. Taken as prescribed, Efavirenz can cause vivid dreams. Someone — possibly an HIV patient experimenting — discovered that smoking the drug greatly enhances those hallucinations.
Today, some of the illegal drugs come from HIV patients selling their own lifesaving medication for profit. Others are stolen from patients or pharmacies.

Pharmacies in the townships have banklike security. The drugs are kept behind vault doors, because they have an enormous black market value. Just one container of the ARVs is worth $60, and a whole shelf is worth $3,000.
Driving through the townships, a local AIDS health worker named Zola Shezi showed us the extent of the black market in ARVs. She saw drug dens everywhere; one she identified had children playing right outside.
“Just here, the man he owns the house, he built all these rooms … one, there’s one room where his customers stay and crush and do things.”

The few police we saw did nothing.

In just three years, ARVs have grown from a niche drug abused by a small number of HIV patients into a widespread addiction, increasingly among young people.

Many ARV abusers are young students, and in a neighborhood like the one we visited you’ll find dealers on almost every street, selling to students during school hours and just after.

In his house that doubles as a drug den, we met one of the dealers face-to-face. Dinda — he gave us a false name to hide his identity — said he earns many times what he could make, if he could find a job.

He acknowledged that the drugs are meant for people with HIV, but said “nobody can give me that money while I’m sitting at home; I have to go and do something for money.”

Recounting a story that’s not unusual in the area, he said he’s the only one of eight siblings still alive. His siblings were all victims of HIV or gang violence, leaving him to take care of a large, extended family.

“I’m unemployed, four of these years I am not working, if I can stop this we can all suffer,” he said. “So they shouldn’t blame me for what I’m trying to make a living out of.”

HIV Could Build Resistance to Medication

For families of abusers, it’s a very different story. ARVs are powerful enough to turn even young people into violent addicts. We met Dudu, who told us her 21-year-old son steals from her to pay for his habit.

“Sometimes if I said I’m going to call the police he said he going to kill me,” she said. “I believe him.”

Now, South Africa may soon face a deadly consequence of ARV addiction. By smoking the drug, abusers are in effect giving HIV a small taste of anti-retroviral medication — not enough to kill the virus, but enough for it to potentially develop resistance to the drug.

It’s like “educating the HIV,” said Masabo. “And so you’ll find that we have a second epidemic emerging, an epidemic that we cannot control with the current drug that we have.”

Back in the drug den, the teenage addict Joshua told us what happens to HIV patients isn’t his problem.
“I feel guilty sometimes, but hey. I know what I’m doing is wrong, but what I’ve started I must carry on.”
The cemeteries of South Africa are already crowded with victims of HIV. Now, a new danger is threatening to put the country’s best defense up in smoke.

Read JIM SCIUTTO’s story here: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/Story?id=7227982&page=3