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Perpetuating apartheid:: South African drug policy

Authors:
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Perpetuating apartheid: South African
drug policy
Shaun Shelly and Simon Howell
‘We do not hate the European because he is white. We hate him because
he is an oppressor. And it is plain dishonesty to say I hate the sjambok1
and not the one who wields it.’
Robert Sobukwe, 1959
‘Sjambok anyone that you see selling nyaope or providing, together we
can break the silence … We can even make our own Sjamboks.’
Press statement by the Congress of South African Students, 2016
Introduction
No chemical substance, irrespective of form, effect, or composition, is
innately, immediately, or naturally a ‘drug’. Rather, chemical substances
become drugs through a process of invention – ranging across social,
political, economic and legal spheres – that is driven by partisan interests
and personal agendas. Indeed, in tracing the origins of the prohibition
of individual substances now widely understood to be ‘illegal drugs’
to their foundations, there is little more than a decision that has no
justification other than itself. In this chapter, we trace the narrative of
the prohibition of ‘illegal drugs’ in South Africa, the aim of which is to a)
reveal this narrative as a continuation of the logic of racial segregation,
formerly constituted as the form of government known as apartheid,
and b) highlight how despite South Africa’s ‘turn’ to democracy in
1994, the treatment of those defined as drug users contemporarily not
only resembles, but reconstitutes the systematic violence of apartheid
premised on the artificial discrimination of individuals.
It is not without some irony that South Africa has become one of the
last outposts of the traditionally defined ‘war on drugs’, having been one
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of the primary instigators of the process that led to the prohibition of
cannabis and furthermore, when remembering that it is a land whose
history is littered with conquest, domination and artificial segregation.
Throughout South Africa’s history, one simple tool has been employed
by those tasked with implementing the segregation of individuals and
groups – the ‘sjambok’. The sjambok, a long whip originally devised for
use by someone seated on a cart to drive cattle or bulls, was by the sides
of the first Europeans to clamber off their ships at the Cape of Good
Hope, with its use on humans as a tool of discipline or punishment being
recorded from the outset. It has remained by the side of the dominating
party, finding extensive use by a litany of mine bosses digging for the
gold upon which Johannesburg was built, by the farmers in the sugar
cane fields upon which Durban was built, and by the apartheid police
tasked with enforcing the imagined differences upon which the system
was built. One would hope that the advent of democracy would have
relegated this tool to history; however, even the mythology of Mandela
could not overcome the fear and loathing of illegal drugs and drug
users. Despite being formally illegal now, the sjambok’s use has once
again resurfaced, justified by a rhetoric that once again promises to
drive individuals away from deviance, and to discipline them for their
digressions.
In this chapter, we explore both the history of drug legislation and drug
prohibition before and after apartheid, using the sjambok as the central
artefact by which to guide the chronology and as a means of framing
the argument. Our aim is to not only highlight how contemporary drug
regulation continues the racist divisions historically formulated through
colonial and apartheid architectures of governance, but to show how
this assemblage of laws, precepts and tasks are themselves riddled with
contradiction. The primary contradiction, per example, is that despite
the two-decades-old aim of South African law and policy to ‘eliminate
drugs and drug use’ in society, the mechanisms used in this ‘elimination’,
such as heavy-handed policing and a lack of treatment efforts, have
served to contribute to a steady increase in drug prevalence and use. In
showing this, we draw on and bring to the literature new data previously
unavailable to researchers. Before turning to the historical antecedents
of this reality, finally, it should be noted that our aim here is not to
crack yet another sjambok at those – such as the police – who may find
themselves structurally implicated in the offences of South African drug
regulation policy, but rather to add in some way to the basis of critical
reasoning advancing alternative regulatory frameworks.
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Colonial roots and imperial justifications
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States, the
European colonial powers and China – driven by a combination of
economic interests as well as racist perceptions masquerading as moral
beliefs – sought to control the production, distribution and use of a
number of pharmacological substances, although their primary focus
was opium and later, cocaine. While couched in a moral narrative
concerned with the ‘saving’ of the colonial ‘natives’ who were imagined
as the primary users, the principle concern was, however, economic.
Britain readily went to war with China, for instance, between 1839 and
1860 over the distribution rights to the opium trade (and indeed, Chinese
sovereignty), or as understood in a contemporary rubric, the right to
be the sole cartel dealing in opium. Similarly, when Karl Koller and
Sigmund Freud discovered the anaesthetic qualities of cocaine, it was
heralded as a ‘medical miracle’, with demand consequently outstripping
production for some time. But both were to be deemed illegitimate
and eventually illegal as a result of their association with Black and
Asian labourers, in which their use became a vehicle for the moral
condemnation of individuals and populations seen as different and
inferior. In relation to opium, this was to be the basis for the fear of the
‘yellow peril’ that was used as a means of narrating the existential crisis
encountered at the onset of the decline of the legitimacy of the British
empire-building project, while in reference to cocaine, the basis for the
primordialization of the ‘negro race’ in the US and the assemblage of the
architecture of racial division that only began to be dismantled in the
1960s and which is still visible at the time of writing.
As such, motivated mainly by the commercial interests of European
nations, early agreements and resolutions focused on regulation. The
opium trade needed controlling to protect the United Kingdom’s
financial interests in the trade. However, in North America, the
commercial imperative to control the production, trade and use of
drugs had a second motivating factor: the need to control those seen as
‘other’, most often expressed within the context of racial identity. The
White American population believed that the use of opium by Chinese
immigrants was a significant threat to stability, and the use of cocaine
by former slaves in the South made them impervious to the effects of a
well-aimed bullet, necessitating the need to supply police with larger-
calibre weapons. Similarly, cannabis (marijuana) used by Mexican men,
according to the press of the time, resulted in the rape of White women.
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There were moreover so many incidents of authorities meeting out
physical reprisals that the use of the whip as a legitimate state response
to the drug-using ‘other’ entered into the English lexicon, for it was
hoped that they might be ‘whipped into shape’.
There is a remarkable consistency between the arguments used to
justify the prohibition of cocaine, cannabis and opium in the United
States and Canada, and cannabis and opium in South Africa. Although
not indigenous to Africa, Africans have used cannabis for centuries.
Cannabis was medicine, social lubricant and mediator of religious
experience for many cultural groups. David Livingstone reported that the
Sotho smoked cannabis before going into battle,2 while others claim that
cannabis fuelled the Zulu victory at the Battle of Blood River.3 In 1870,
the Natal Colony prohibited the smoking, sale, or trade in cannabis by
Indian labourers and in 1891, the Cape Colony followed. Concerns that
cannabis reduced the efficiency and obedience of workers motivated the
prohibition. Cannabis use and cultivation by Black Africans and Indian
slaves was a point of ongoing discussion among the colonial authorities.
While some were adamant that cannabis was the cause of all manner of
crime and social disorder, mine managers expressed an ambivalence to
prohibiting the sale of cannabis to mineworkers; in direct contradiction
to the accepted narrative, they claimed it made the labourers more
productive. Even with the motivation of profit, by the early 1900s, the
cannabis conversation was one of race and class, enhanced by fear of the
‘Black Peril’, and the mixing of races through the cannabis trade.
Indeed, running parallel to the move towards cannabis prohibition,
the South African opium trade was walking the line between regulation
and prohibition. In the paper ‘The rise and fall of the opium trade in
the Transvaal, 19041910’, Waentje describes the complex relationship
between the economic interests of the mines, the moral and prohibitionist
agenda of religious groups, and the pragmatic view of some medical
doctors.4 From 1904 to 1909, the notorious Labour Importation Scheme
brought over 63,000 Chinese men to South Africa to work in the mines.
With the new labourers came opium, a part of the social fabric in China.
This new opium market saw a variety of routes opening up, and a number
of attempts by government, immigrants, local farmers and mines to
make a profit. In 1905, after failed attempts to control the opium trade
through punitive measures, the authorities passed the Opium Trade
Regulation Ordinance, allowing for two pounds of opium per person
per month. By 1909, more than 16,000 pounds of opium had been
distributed – legally – under the regulation. However, once the Chinese
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labourers had largely returned to China, the ‘mine medicine’ lost value
as a tool for productivity. Soon it was labelled a threat to the morality
of all, and when it was reported to Jan Smuts that opium dens were full
of undesirables of mixed races and ‘bastard women lying with Chinese
men’, the Opium Ordinance was quickly phased out. Like in Canada and
the US, the threat of the ‘yellow peril’ was the primary motivation for
universal prohibition. The colonial imperative of keeping races separate
– and the White race pure motivated the early prohibition of drugs.
The reported true ‘evil’ of drugs was that their trade and use brought the
races into the same space, often as equals. In South Africa, Canada and
the US, reports at the time repeatedly reference White women, when
intoxicated, being in the presence of men of colour as an example of
the depravity attributable to drugs. Paterson convincingly argues that
the reasoning that informed cannabis prohibition in South Africa was
almost identical to the development of the apartheid laws.5 By 1922,
South Africa was committed to the prohibition of cannabis (hemp).
This was of such importance that in 1923 South Africa petitioned the
League of Nations to include Indian hemp on the International List of
Habit Forming Substances. Cannabis was included, alongside opium
and cocaine, on the list of dependence-forming drugs in 1925, ending
the need for South Africa to justify local prohibition.
After the Second World War, the only superpower to emerge without
crippling financial debt was the United States. By using financial aid as
a bargaining tool, American influence in the international sphere grew,
and the prohibitionist agenda gained traction, culminating in the 1961
Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which states that ‘addiction to
narcotic drugs constitutes a serious evil for the individual and is fraught
with social and economic danger to mankind.’6 Nations have a ‘duty
to prevent and combat this evil’ and since ‘effective measures against
abuse of narcotic drugs require co-ordinated and universal action’, they
mandate ‘international co-operation guided by the same principles and
aimed at common objectives’. The convention of 1961 thereby obliged
sovereign nations to adopt the principles of prohibition and legitimized
foreign influence in the development of local responses to drugs. The
convention was strengthened in 19717 and again in 1988, when the Politi-
cal Declaration and Action Plan on Global Drug Control set the goal of
a ‘drug free world’.8 The linking of a moral framework with that of a reg-
ulatory framework is clear here, operating at first as a justificatory strat-
egy whereas contemporarily the artificial nature of the association has
become hidden – for many, the fact that drug use is couched in terms of
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morality requires no questioning or even acknowledgement. As natural
as this may seem, it is an entirely artificial product. It is furthermore not
simply by chance that the moral condemnation of drug use lends itself
so easily to the moral condemnation implicit in racist categorizations.
Both mask the arbitrariness of the distinctions on which they rely by
making these distinctions monstrous, and thereby, justifying the scorn
and violence which has characterized the regulation of illegal drugs and
the structural racism seen in assemblages, such as apartheid.
There is increasing acknowledgement that the approach to drug
control, as promoted by the United States, and summarized as the ‘War
on Drugs’, impacts on marginalized communities and people of colour
disproportionally. Michelle Alexander has called the mass incarceration
of African Americans the ‘New Jim Crow’.9 In Culture and Imperialism,10
Edward Said defines ‘imperialism’ as ‘the practice, the theory, and the
attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory’
and ‘colonialism’ as ‘the implanting of settlements on distant territory’.
The role of imperialism and colonialism in shaping the war on drugs to
fit an agenda of self-interest should not be underestimated. One need
only highlight the actions and efforts of Harry J. Anslinger in reference
to cannabis control to reveal both the potent political capital that the
condemnation of drugs may have, as well as demonstrate how prejudice
and racial hatred can underpin a lifelong career. The maintenance of
the status quo of inequity and further marginalization, through the
application of drug policy, to the benefit of the colonizing powers, is
well documented, not only in this volume, but in the wider literature.
The United States, through economic power, has imposed the ideology
that informs their domestic drug policy globally, on sovereign states,
with few exceptions. This meets Said’s criteria for imperialism. Through
the deployment (or implanting) of military and paramilitary forces,
such as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the training of local
law enforcement, these territories have, effectively, become colonized.
Apartheid and the fear of difference
Apartheid formalized and took to their logical conclusion many of the
pre-existing tenets of colonial South Africa. The new laws introduced
under the Nationalist government sought to divide racial groups and
ensure that the interests of White South Africans remained protected
at all costs. By creating broad groups of apparent homogeny through
the legal system, education and media misinformation, the government
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sought to dehumanize those who were placed lower on an imagined
ontological hierarchy. The government conjured up four racial groups
in this hierarchy of South African society: ‘white’, ‘coloured’, ‘Indian’
and ‘black’. Each was constructed as having implicit and innate qualities
and characteristics, with whiteness being seen as more ‘pure’ and it was
perceived to be ‘natural’ for a minority of the population to rule over
the majority. In doing so, groups could be dehumanized, presented
as a threat, and thus the way in which they were controlled became
understandable and justifiable to the privileged class, in this case, White
South Africans.
In order to maintain the position of the economically privileged,
the ruling party kept the protesting underclasses subdued through
various means of social control. People of colour needed permission
to move through areas where White people lived – a passbook was
required. Rights to education, work and political organization were
restricted. Most revealing, however, was the assemblage of laws known
as the ‘Immorality Act’. Originally passed in 1927 (Act 5 of 1927), the act
prohibited sexual relations between ‘Europeans’ and ‘Natives’ outside
of marriage. In 1949, Act 55 prohibited marriages between ‘Europeans’
and ‘Non-Europeans’, and in 1950 (Act 21 of 1950), the Immorality
Amendment Act was expanded to intercourse between ‘Europeans’
and ‘Non-Europeans’. The effect was to criminalize any ‘mixed’ births
that occurred, although these were rarely pursued by the authorities.
The ‘immorality’ was derivative of a fear that the mixing of racialized
bodies would dilute the purity of whiteness and muddle the ontological
categories upon which governance was based. Drug use, understood
as irrational, immoral and deviant, was thought to encourage such
behaviour and was thus placed within and condemned as a function of
this larger moral governmentality. However, it is important to note that
it was not that drugs and drug use were ‘naturally’ immoral, but that
they were strategically positioned to reflect a moral architecture, albeit
usually through its negation.
In terms of legal rights, if there is a violation of a right, and there is
no means of remedy, the right is meaningless. In apartheid South Africa,
access to courts to remedy the violations of rights was difficult for Black
South Africans.11 Historians and legal experts commonly acknowledge
that Black South Africans were unlikely to receive the same level of
support, quality of representation, and access to legal aid as other South
Africans. In order to address the inability of the courts to deal with the
large number of people before them, a number of legal procedures were
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denied, and those meant to uphold the law became complicit in the
violation of rights.12
The policing of apartheid was particularly problematic. Police
had to enforce the unenforceable in a population excluded from the
establishment of the laws that controlled them. This immediately
put the police and the population at odds with each other, and the
principles of ethical policing, as described by Peele,13 were impossible
to fulfil. Without the support of the population, and with ‘crime’ being
of a mala prohibitia nature and against the will of the people, the first
principle of Peelian Policing Principles became impossible, namely
‘to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of
crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment’.
In order to police the unenforceable, police were militarized, granted
excessive powers to apply physical and lethal force, and when they
failed to maintain the ordered suppression of communities, the military
provided reinforcement. Such a strategy of engagement has been
iteratively reflected over time in South Africa, perhaps most recently in
the calls for military operations in some communities of Cape Town to
‘root out’ drugs and gangs. The apartheid police were armed with both
firearms and the sjambok, a symbolic appointment compared with the
efficacy of a modern firearm. That the sjambok was still provisioned for
is indicative of its place in the governance of the country – it was meant
to whip into shape the population, of course – but it was also emblematic
of a particular conception of power in which those who ruled did so
through the cracking of a whip across the backs of a population classed
primarily as a labour pool for the mining of wealth.
‘Worse than apartheid’
Around the world, as repressive regimes are overthrown, when borders
are opened and the freedom of movement is restored, new trade routes
open, and economic opportunities expand, allowing for the predictable
and unavoidable increase in the availability of drugs. Similarly, after the
fall of apartheid and the first free elections in 1994, a rise in the availability
of drugs in South Africa was inevitable. In addition, in South Africa,
with the focus of the struggle for freedom all but gone, the purpose
that unified oppressed and marginalized communities dissipated.
Rather, the focus shifted towards individual needs and a race to claim
a part of the redistribution of wealth. With the move from collective
cause towards individual identity, and the corresponding rise of the
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free market economy, there comes an increasing sense of psychosocial
dislocation. For the majority of South Africans, the hope of meaningful
participation in a new South Africa has failed to materialize. Neoliberal
policies have replaced more socialist-oriented proposals14 and many
communities still lack basic services. South Africa has a GINI index
that positions the country as one of the most inequitable in the world.15
Social exclusion, defined as the ‘restriction of access to opportunities
and a limited capacity to capitalise on these opportunities’16, is a key
factor in determining the level of dependent drug use in communities.
Bruce Alexander has persuasively argued that this sense of psychosocial
dislocation, in many cases, leads to the rise of addiction to anything
perceived to resolve the feeling of exclusion.17 Since drugs became more
available, they became one way of satisfying this need.
If Alexander’s model is correct, the group racially classified by the
apartheid government as ‘coloured’ is at particular risk due to the high
levels of dislocation experienced by this community. This ethnic group
is heterogeneous and their ancestors were early colonizers, Khoisan,
Xhosa, and slaves from India, Malaysia and Indonesia among others.
This initially resulted in a lack of unified cultural identity and narrative
history. However, a unique ‘Cape Coloured’ cultural identity began to
develop in the early twentieth century, specifically on the outskirts of
the city centre in the region of District 6. Just as the people of District 6
started to find an identity, the apartheid government forcibly relocated
them to the Cape Flats, breaking up families and sub-communities and
putting them into accommodation that resembled human Skinner boxes
– that is, the small, enclosed box used by B. F. Skinner to study operant
conditioning. This act of incredible cruelty disrupted the emerging
sense of community and ‘belonging’, and arguably makes the Cape Flats
community the most psychosocially dislocated population in South
Africa. As Alexander’s theory predicts, it is therefore not surprising that
the Western Cape accounts for almost 40 per cent of the South Africa’s
drug-related crime.18 The ‘coloured’ population makes up 8.8 per cent
of the total national population, yet 18.2 per cent of the total prison
population are classified as coloured.
While people across the entire spectrum of economic status may
experiment with the use of drugs, those that are more susceptible
to dependency and the habituated use of drugs tend to come from
communities where there are few choices and opportunities to find
meaning beyond the use of drugs. The impact of adverse childhood
events on the probability of adult dependent drug use is well publicized.
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People who score a six on the Adverse Childhood Event score are
46 times more likely to inject drugs than those who score a zero.19
Untreated mental health issues are also linked to the dependent use
of drugs. Further, the likelihood of arrest for drug possession and use
increases in communities where there is little private space and a high
police presence. Once arrested, an individual is far less likely to find
economic integration. The common and accepted narrative is that
drugs cause economic deprivation and lack of opportunity. While this
may be true in certain circumstances, it is far more likely that economic
deprivation and lack of opportunity motivate drug use, and the criminal
justice response further impacts on the individual’s ability to engage
with the formal economy.
The use of drugs and their trade has rapidly become a proxy for many
of the social ills faced by communities in South Africa. The presence of
drugs and the use in communities is seen as the cause of many of the
social and economic issues people face. Drugs have become a politically
expedient target, distracting the voters from the government’s failure
to address the real issues of inequity, lack of opportunity, and poverty.
By labelling drug dependency as ‘a serious evil for the individual
[that] is fraught with social and economic danger to mankind’,20 the
message that the use of drugs is the cause and not the symptom is clear.
Apartheid was never labelled ‘evil’ by the United Nations. Therefore,
according to some, for example, the Premier of the Western Cape,
Helen Zille:
Our crisis of substance abuse is harming another generation of young
people worse than even what apartheid did to their forefathers
We can’t deal with this problem unless the police manage to track
down the drug dealers, charge them and put them away for as long
as it takes. In the meantime we have to deal with the tragic victims
of substance abuse, ensure education, prevention, early detection
rehabilitation and aftercare.21
To describe drug use and dependence as causing more harm than
apartheid would seem insensitive, ill-informed and irresponsible – yet
there was no backlash to this statement. There was a tacit agreement
among politicians and the press that the ‘scourge of drugs’ is the biggest
problem the country faces. The statement suggests three standard
responses to drug use: (a) police action to stop the supply by targeting
‘dealers’, (b) an effective criminal justice system to ensure that the dealers
166 · s hau n s h e l ly an d s i mon h o w e l l
are removed from the community, and finally (c) demand supply-side
reduction through detection, rehabilitation and aftercare. Each of these
reductionist conceptualizations is lacking.
First, relying on supply-side reduction through police action has been
the principle approach for decades, and has made little or no impact on
the supply of drugs. This approach fails to acknowledge the most basic
of economic principles: where there is a demand, there will be a supply.
No amount of policing can stop the supply of all drugs, and in cases
where the supply of certain drugs is restricted, and there is a demand,
the drugs are synthesized or sourced in different ways. This can lead
to significant increases in risk an example would be the move from
heroin to homemade desomorphine (Krokodil) extracted from codeine
pills in the Ukraine.
Second, Zille’s suggestion that police track down ‘dealers’, charge
them and put them away for ‘as long as it takes’, implies that people who
sell drugs are not entitled to due process and proportional sentencing.
She further fails to define just who is a ‘dealer’. The reality is that in
gang-controlled territories, by incarcerating community-level dealers, a
void is created that is soon filled – often after a turf war accompanied by
an increased level of violence. In many cases, people labelled as dealers
are nothing more than people who use drugs (PWUD) trying to fund
their own habit through the sales of drugs to a small circle of friends and
acquaintances. Again, the arrest of these individuals makes no impact
on the supply of drugs and carries significant harms for the individual.
Finally, Zille victimizes and pathologizes PWUD, saying that the use
of drugs ‘must be prevented, detected and those that use drugs must be
rehabilitated’. This statement is devoid of the nuances and complexities
that lead to habituated, dependent drug use, and makes no provision for
PWUD without developing a dependency. Most people who use drugs,
even those considered to be dependent users, do not need rehabilitation
and aftercare. Yet, she paints them all as victims in need of curing,
incapable of being employed or being part of the community.
Each of the above strategies is misguided, and contributes to the
imperial and colonial agenda entrenched in the International Conven-
tions on Narcotic Drugs. Recalling that the original goal of the prohibi-
tion of drugs was not to protect the whole of society from the dangers of
drugs, but rather to protect the interests of the elite at the expense of the
working class (usually people of colour), it is not surprising that the cur-
rent drug control system uses many of the resources once used to police
apartheid. Ironically, communities accept these responses in the belief
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that they are beneficial, yet they have become a more insidious form of
de facto apartheid, in much the same way that drug policy has emerged
as the new Jim Crow in the United States.
Perpetuating apartheid
There ought to be as little need to speak of the role of the police in our
apartheid society as there is to speak of the role of weather forecasting
in our political system. Although the police in any political system have
the role of ultimately applying that system and of enforcing compliance
with it, there is a general acceptance in enlightened Western countries
that to some extent at least the police ought to keep their distance from the
conflicts of ideology and political opinion which necessarily characterise
all mature societies.
B. Van Niekerk, ‘The police in apartheid society’22
If you don’t want us to militarise, to take over your neighbourhoods,
keep us out of areas that require us to solve your social problems. But
because the police have the biggest footprint across the country we are
being called on to solve problems for other departments which are weak or
insufficiently organised. So we end up trying to control what we shouldn’t
be controlling.
Major General Jeremey Vearey
In South Africa, as in many other countries, the prevention of the use and
supply of drugs lies firmly in the domain of the police. Placing the police
at the forefront of the implementation of drug policy, compromises their
role. As with apartheid, they are policing the impossible – the goal of a
drug-free society is impossible and even undesirable. When expected to
perform a task that is impossible, the police often resort to hard policing.
This includes a significant show of force and the arbitrary application
of stop-and-search policies. As with apartheid, when people would
insert cash in their passbook to ensure their freedom of movement,23
the freedom to move with impunity can be bought in the ganglands of
Cape Town.24 Mass raids, when entire suburbs are cordoned off at the
dead of night and as many as fifty doors are kicked in by police with
military support, are direct repeats of apartheid policing, and are not
indicative of considered and investigative policing. Many of these raids
are nothing more than a show of force, and those caught are seldom
more than drug users or low-level dealers. Despite the failure to find any
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evidence, police justify their actions, as the following quote from a 2015
report in Eye Witness News suggests: ‘Sergeant Jerome Vogt says one of
their aims is to disrupt drug operations in the area. “Even if we don’t
find drugs at a specific house, it’s important that we disrupt the activities
because we know that in the area there is selling of drugs. Fast disruptive
operations are very important.”’25
The impact of policing drugs on the individual is significant, but it
moves beyond the individual to the collective. Through militarization
and the scatter-gun approach, entire communities are alienated.
The possibility of applying Peelian principles is minimized and the
police become a tool of the state rather than a trusted resource for the
community. The benefit of a strong police presence and a show of force
may be welcomed by some, but when violence escalates and frustration
rises, a community will turn on the police, regarding them as persecutor
rather than protector. The arbitrary searches of schools, where children
as young as age 12 are searched by armed police, does not reduce the
trauma of children; it either contributes to the trauma or hardens them,
setting up the future dynamic of distrust. This focus on the police’s
role in the war on drugs provides a dual distraction: Either the dealers
(usually in the form of foreign nationals from other African countries)
are blamed, or the police are targeted for failing to perform. In an effort
to prove their commitment and utility, police quote numbers of arrests
and the press are invited to witness their vigour and commitment to
the task. All of this contributes to the breakdown of human rights, a
disregard for the rights of all South Africans, and the othering of a large
portion of the population.
Statistics relating to drug arrests are released annually as a subset of
the larger crime statistics. These statistics are, however, aggregated and
generalized, and contain little information relating to the arrest process,
conviction rates, and any specific details. Further information was,
however, provided to one of the authors, the results of which not only
reveal how futile the past and present policing strategy has been, but
that the police are simply just not the answer to the problems reflected
by illegal drug use. Nationally, drug arrests increased by 181.5 per cent
between 2005 and 2015, translating into some 266,902 arrests in the last
year. Over the same period, national treatment levels rose just 27.5 per
cent, with a mere 10,197 people receiving treatment, or just 3.8 per cent of
those arrested. Focusing solely on the Western Cape province, the raw
statistics between 2005 and 2015 reveal the absolute failure of policing
to produce any form of ‘success’, even by the very definition used by
p erp et u a t i ng ap a r t h eid : s o u t h a fr i c a n dr ug p o l icy · 169
the police – ‘to reduce and eliminate the production, distribution and
use of drugs in South Africa’. Of the 9,093 arrests reported in just one
year (2013), 8,972 were for suspected possession while just 118 were for
suspected dealing. This is a ratio of 1.32 per cent. Even within the War
on Drugs paradigm, it was recognized that it was of far greater utility to
arrest drug dealers rather than drug users. As such, the question is why
the South African police have continued to do the precise opposite. The
answer, it seems, is that drug users represent an easy ‘resource’ by which
to ensure that arrest statistics, integral to the performance management
system, are met. As such, drug users are easy to arrest, the moral
condemnation of their use prevents any questioning of the process, and
their numbers allow for the meeting of statistics that define ‘success’ and
thus help to ensure promotion and career development. Once more, the
whip has been cracked, and the police have responded.
Such responses are, however, not only prejudicial in terms of drugs
themselves, but draw on the deeply embedded ontological framework
established by apartheid that continues to define the parameters of
daily life in the country. Drawing on the same data set, but focusing on
four discrete suburbs that are homogenous in terms of population size
and economic variables, but disparate in terms of racial makeup, it was
found that coloured men are disproportionately at risk of being arrested
by a factor of some 2.48 or in other words, nearly 2.5 times more
likely of being arrested on suspicion of drug possession or dealing than
other racial groups. This is in comparison of a factor of 0.01 for White
men and 0.17 for Black men above the standard deviation. The risk of
arrest factor for White women was 0.0038 – translated contextually,
White women are at higher risk of being bitten by a shark than they are
of being arrested on suspicion of drug possession/dealing. The statistics
bear witness to an ontological framework in which race has become the
marker of suspicion, justified teleologically by an implicit hierarchy
in which colour and deviance are intimately interwoven, the result of
which is that the policing of drugs continues the logic and effects of
apartheid by other means. Drugs, in short, are the mask behind which
apartheid reasoning continues to manifest itself in South Africa.
Once arrested for drug possession, people lose many of their rights
to due process. In 2017, the Cape Town Network of People Who Use
Drugs attended a hundred cases at five magistrate courts in Cape Town.
This was to inform the processes and protocol for a formal study in 2018.
Of the hundred cases observed, 97 people were charged with possession
and three with possession with intent to distribute. In 76 cases, the
170 · s hau n s h e l ly an d s i mon h o w e l l
defendant pled guilty, received a warning and was allowed to leave. After
pleading not guilty, seven were found guilty and sentenced to a week in
prison, two received prison sentences of 30 days with the alternative of a
fine, and 15 were remanded. Only one person applied for bail, which was
refused. While this may sound like de facto de-penalization, it must be
remembered that all one hundred people were either convicted and will
have a criminal record, or went to prison.
Even when incarcerated for a short period, and then found inno-
cent, the consequences can be dire. The Constitutional Court of South
Africa’s Cameron Report on Pollsmoor Correctional Centre,26 described
the conditions in the remand centre as unhygienic, without hot water,
and filled to three times the recommended capacity; it was reported that
inmates spend 24 hours a day in their cells. Medical care is virtually non-
existent and sickness is rife. What the report does not account for is the
level of gang activity and drug use. South African prison gangs are based
on a mythology of numbers: the ‘26s’, ‘27s’ and ‘28s’. The gangs are infa-
mous and the story of ‘The Number’ provides an alluring oral history
and sense of belonging, while creating order in a chaotic world, offering
the aspiration of rank, and importantly, a potential to participate eco-
nomically in the drug trade once released. For someone who is living in
abject poverty and has no hope of securing a job with a criminal convic-
tion to their name, this is an immensely attractive alternative, especially
when a reluctance to embrace ‘The Number’ will almost certainly result
in physical and sexual assault while in remand. It is also noted in the
Cameron Report that the many prisoners awaiting trial posed no risk
to society, and many could simply not afford the bail needed which was
as little as ZAR50 (US$3.50) in some cases. It is also necessary to have a
fixed address in order to be released on bail. Many people who use drugs
are reluctant to provide an address due to stigmatization or because they
are living in informal accommodation arrangements.
Considering the prison conditions, it is not surprising that those
appearing before the magistrate plead guilty to avoid the immediate
threat of prison, despite the long-term consequences of a criminal record.
What is even more concerning is the total lack of legal representation
for PWUD. When the public prosecutor at the Cape Town Magistrates
Court was asked about this, the researcher was told that Legal Aid
lawyers are only available for people charged with dealing. There was
a further perception among the accused that if legal representation was
requested, this would be seen by the court as an attempt to delay and
obstruct the court, and as such, the risk of incarceration was increased.
p erp et u a t i ng ap a r t h eid : s o u t h a fr i c a n dr ug p o l icy · 171
The consequences that the economically marginalized face are not
typically what the more privileged classes face. School raids are limited
to the poorer schools, the indiscriminate restriction of movement and
kicking down of doors is not the modus operandi in the leafy suburbs
of South Africa’s middle class. Cannabis is smoked behind the walls of
gated communities, far from the noses of patrolling police. If, through
some accident of fate, a member of the elite is found in possession of
drugs, they are more likely to be sent to rehab than prison.
As the opioid crisis in the United States spreads to the Mid-West
and the white middle class, there has been a corresponding increase
in proclaiming drug-dependent people as patients, not prisoners.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) is the largest funder of
research on drugs scheduled by the conventions. The predominant focus
over the last two decades has been on the neuroscience of addiction,
and in 1997 Alan Leshner,27 then director of NIDA, proclaimed that
‘addiction is a brain disease, and it matters.’ Leshner’s replacement,
Nora Volkow, has repeatedly proclaimed that addiction is a disease of
free will, that if left untreated, will probably result in death. Despite the
fact that this idea is repeatedly exposed as false by robust population-
wide data, it has become the accepted narrative, and similar to the
imperial and colonial actions of the past, the move to treat addiction
the American way is promoted by the joint agencies of Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) and the Addiction
Treatment Transfer Centre Network (ATTCN). SAMHSA’s mission is
to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on American
communities, and is a repository for ‘evidence-based interventions’.
The vision of the ATTCN is to unify science, education, and service to
transform lives through evidence-based and promising treatment and
recovery practices in a recovery-oriented system of care. More recently,
they have focused on the dissemination and implementation of services
internationally.
To those who are seeking relief from the War on Drugs approach,
the medical approach may seem like a reasoned alternative, but for the
more cynical it could be said that there is more profit in making people
patients rather than prisoners. It should be noted that many of the
interventions proposed by SAMHSA are delivered in a manner more
aligned with a form of social control than health care. For example,
methadone can only be accessed in specialist programmes, where doses
are delivered daily along with compulsory psychosocial services for
extended periods of time. This precludes the necessary levels of freedom
172 · s hau n s h e l ly an d s i mon h o w e l l
of movement and autonomy to engage in meaningful employment
or other activities, as well as being stamped with the label of diseased
and incapable of making a rational decision. Goffman, in his seminal
explorations of stigma and identity, highlighted the labelling of people
who are dependent on drugs as bad, dangerous or weak and out of
control’.28 In the same way as civilized society was threatened by the
‘black peril’ or the ‘yellow peril’, we now face the threat of the peril of the
drug addict. The conceptualization of the drug user as patient instead of
prisoner is once again an attempt to colonize the poor in distant lands
by treating people in a specific way that labels them as diseased for life,
at risk for life, and always vulnerable to relapse and therefore in need of
ongoing care and monitoring.
What all of these responses have in common is that they keep the poor
in a cycle of economic exclusion, keep them ‘othered’, position them as a
threat to their community, and encourage the exclusion and marginali-
zation of those that use drugs. This in turn motivates the continued use
of drugs and encourages the escalation of responses guided by the sci-
entific approaches funded by foreign interests. Importantly, they distract
from the real causes of broken communities – poverty, lack of hope, poor
resource management and allocation – as well as the failure of politicians
to meet the needs of the people. It further blinds communities from see-
ing the harms that the accepted responses to drugs have. In combination,
the response to drugs uses apartheid resources to the same effect – the
marginalization and exclusion of the masses – to protect the interests of
the few. This time, however, it is our own hand that wields the sjambok.
Undue support and influence
Despite the similarities in both methods and outcomes, there are some
significant differences between enforcing apartheid and drug prohibi-
tion; the main difference being the level of support for the actions taken.
At a community level, despite the obvious disruptions that are caused
by indiscriminate policing and the shutting down of entire communities,
members of the community often support these efforts in the name of
fighting ‘drugs and gangs’. According to the Cape Times, for example,
when a raid by police cordoned off Mannenberg, preventing all people
from going to work, residents supported the move, even calling for a
military presence.29
Internationally, foreign countries have provided services and policy
guidance to South Africa. The United States DEA, the paramilitary force
p erp et u a t i ng ap a r t h eid : s o u t h a fr i c a n dr ug p o l icy · 173
with the mission of enforcing the controlled substances laws of the United
States,30 conducts ongoing training with South African law enforcement
agencies. The DEA are presented as experts in drug law enforcement,
despite their failure to make any notable reduction in the availability of
drugs in the United States,31 their complicity in numerous scandals,32
poor record relating to human rights, and being involved in a number of
civilian deaths. The DEA has an annual budget of US$3 billion.
As Jonny Steinberg aptly states when commenting on the transfer of
skills from foreign police to South African police:
These ideas bore a bloated conception of urban security which
inadvertently stimulated, and thus helped to keep alive, a similarly
bloated conception of security that lay at the heart of apartheid
thinking. Dressed in the garb of crime prevention, a modified version
of the paramilitary policing practices that flourished under apartheid
returned to the streets of democratic South Africa.33
Once more, the police have been used as the whip that is cracked across
the back of crime, so drawing attention away from the fact that the back
is bare and Black because of the failure of the South African government
to attend to the lingering socio-economic disparities that underwrite the
democratic dispensation.
No critical thought
Despite the clear history of racism, the subjugation of colonized people,
and the undermining of sovereign rights that is woven into the War on
Drugs, despite the involvement of South African colonialists actively
shaping the future of the international drug control regime, there has
been no serious political challenge to the War on Drugs approach in
the South African context. While countries such as Portugal, Uruguay,
Colombia and Ghana are seeking new and domestic ways of dealing
with drug use, in South Africa, if anything, there has been an embracing
of this approach, and the rhetoric employed, instead of being challenged
and refuted, has been amplified.
The belief that we have drug problems, that drugs need to be
‘eradicated’ through increased police actions, and that PWUD must
be incarcerated or treated and/or rehabilitated, is almost universal.
Politicians, together with community, business, academic and religious
leaders, and much of the general population, seem united on this issue:
drugs are the source of all manner of social ills. By restricting supply
174 · s hau n s h e l ly an d s i mon h o w e l l
and eradicating the use of drugs, it is believed, the negative impacts
attributed to the distribution, sale and ‘abuse’ of drugs, will fall away
accordingly. In reality, the problems our communities face have less to
do with drugs than with the failure of all to build inclusive, caring and
responsive communities who see individual well-being as inseparable
from community well-being.
It is time that we looked critically at the policies that are keeping
South Africa in a de facto state of apartheid. We need to realize that
drug policy is the perpetuation of the imperial and colonial, through the
myth of the international consensus that the use of drugs is evil. Without
such critical reflection, the evil of apartheid continues to permeate
through the rhetoric of drugs, the result of which is that contemporary
drug regulation is the proxy through which apartheid continues to
manifest itself in South African society. It is only through such a critical
engagement that the sjambok can finally be removed from the belt of
South African policing.
Notes
1 Sjambok a long leather whip used normally to drive oxen, but also used to
beat labourers.
2 Lukasz Kamienki, Shoot It Up: A Short History of Drugs and War (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2016).
3 Martin Chanock, The Making of South African Legal Culture:  Fear
Favour and Prejudice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 95.
4 T. Waetjen, 2017. ‘The rise and fall of the opium trade in the Transvaal, 1904
1910’, Journal of Southern African Studies 43.4 (2017): 733751.
5 C. Paterson, ‘Prohibition & resistance: A socio-political exploration of the
changing dynamics of the Southern African cannabis trade’. Unpublished
Master’s thesis, Rhodes University, Grahamstown, 2009.
6 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, The International Drug Control
Conventions (New York: United Nations Publications, 2010), p. 23.
7 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, The International Drug Control
Conventions.
8 A/RES/S-20/2* UN General Assembly, Resolution Adopted by the General
Assembly [on the report of the Third Committee (A//)] /. International
action to combat drug abuse and illicit production and trafficking, 26 January
1998, www.refworld.org/docid/3b00f21b8.html [accessed 12 December 2018].
9 Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of
Colorblindness (New York: The New Press: 2012).
10 Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Vintage Books/Random
House, 1993), p. 9.
11 W. Lane and A. P. F. Williamson, ‘Difficulties facing black South Africans in
exercising their legal rights’ in SPRO-CAS Occasional Publication Number 9:
Law, Justice and Society 1972.
p erp et u a t i ng ap a r t h eid : s o u t h a fr i c a n dr ug p o l icy · 175
12 By example, see P. Gready and L. Kgalema, L., ‘Magistrates under apartheid:
A case study of professional ethics and the politicisation of justice’. Occasional
paper written for the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation,
South Africa, 2000.
13 C. Emsley, The English Police: A Political and Social History (London: Routledge,
2014).
14 Sagie Narsiah, ‘Neoliberalism and privatisation in South Africa’, GeoJournal,
57.12 (2002): 313, http://link.springer.com/10.1023/A:1026022903276 [accessed
July 2018].
15 H. Bhorat, Carlene van der Westhuizen and Toughedah Jacobs, ‘Income and
non-income inequality in post-apartheid South Africa: What are the drivers
and possible policy interventions?’, 2009, https://ssrn.com/abstract=1474271 or
http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1474271 [accessed July 2018].
16 A. Hayes, M. Gray and B. Edwards, ‘Social inclusion: Origins, concepts and key
themes’, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 2008, p. 6.
17 B. Alexander, The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
18 Crime Stats (South Africa), www.crimestatssa.com/ [accessed 3 November
2018].
19 V. J. Felitti, ‘Origins of addictive behavior: Evidence from a study of stressful
childhood experiences’, Praxis der Kinderpsychologie und Kinderpsychiatrie
52.8 (2003): 547559.
20 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, The International Drug Control
Conventions, p. 23.
21 Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape, 2013, www.westerncape.gov.za/
gc-news/97/26408 [accessed 3 November 2018].
22 B. van Niekerk, ‘The police in apartheid society’, Law Justice and Society (1972).
23 Gareth Newham and Andrew Faull, ‘Protector or predator? Tackling police
corruption in South Africa’, Institute for Security Studies Monographs, 182
(2011), p. 65, http://reference.sabinet.co.za/webx/access/electronic_journals/
ismono/ismono_n182_a1.pdf [accessed July 2018].
24 Author’s experience in Steenberg area of Cape Town.
25 Monique Mortlock and Shamiela Fisher, ‘Cops raid drug hot spots in Mitchells
Plain’, Eye Witness News, 30 April 2015, http://ewn.co.za/2015/05/01/Cops-raid-
drug-hot-spots-in-Mitchells-Plain [accessed July 2018].
26 Justice Edwin Cameron, 2016. Cameron Report on Pollsmoor Correctional
Centre: Department of Correctional Services progress report, Parliamentary
Monitoring Group, https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/23123/ [accessed 17
September 2018].
27 A. I. Leshner, ‘Addiction is a brain disease, and it matters’, Science, 278.5335
(1997): 4547.
28 E. Goffman, Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1986), p. 3.
29 African News Agency, ‘Undercover operation nets teen with 16 grams of dagga’,
Cape Times, 9 February 2018, www.iol.co.za/capetimes/news/undercover-
operation-nets-teen-with-16-grams-of-dagga-13197957 [accessed 3 November
2018].
30 United States Drug Enforcement Administration, ‘DEA Mission statement’,
n.d., www.dea.gov/about/mission.shtml [accessed 3 November 2018].
176 · s hau n s h e l ly an d s i mon h o w e l l
31 Dan Werb, Thomas Kerr, Bodhan Nosyk, Steffanie Strathdee, Julio Montaner
and Evan Wood, ‘The temporal relationship between drug supply indicators:
An audit of international government surveillance systems’, BMJ Open 3 (2013),
doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2013-003077 [accessed 3 November 2018].
32 Drug Policy Alliance, ‘The scandal-ridden DEA: Everything you need to know’,
April 2015, www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DEA_Scandals_Everything_
You_Need_to_Know_Drug_Policy_Alliance.pdf [accessed 3 November 2018].
33 Jonny Steinberg, ‘Crime prevention goes abroad: Policy transfer and policing
in post-apartheid South Africa’, Theoretical Criminology, 15.4 (2011): 349364,
https://doi.org/10.1177/1362480611406168 [accessed 3 November 20180].
8
Racism and social injustice in War on
Drugs narratives in Indonesia
Asmin Fransiska
Introduction
There has been a lack of literature produced on the history of Indonesian
drug policy and the law. This absence does not occur without reasons.
First, because drugs are constituted as a dangerous topic, sinful to be
discussed and desperately hidden within the culture of Indonesia, they
are largely absent in scientific Indonesian studies.1 Second, talking
about drugs will require talking about crime and the illicit market that
keeps growing within the Indonesian economy, and this overshadows
any discussion of the benefit that drugs may offer for health and
scientific purposes, such as treatment for trauma or psychological
issues.2 Instead, drugs offences are recorded as ‘extraordinary crimes’
in Indonesia.3 The current fear of drugs is connected to how much of
the characterization of drugs in Indonesia remains indebted to literature
from the Dutch colonial era, where early ideas of the danger of drug
cultivation, consumption and distribution for the ‘native’ population
began to form. Even after Indonesian independence, the issue of drugs
became a key topic alongside other national issues, such as forged
currency and corruption,4 and thus the Indonesian government decided
to ratify the UN International Drug Conventions and a new era of
prohibition began.5 Since then, the International Drug Conventions
have been driving the law and policy related to drugs in Indonesia
since the 1970s, unfortunately limiting successive governments’ ability
to explore alternative drug laws and policies which focus on protecting
the human rights, and health and wider cultural rights of the general
population.6 The debate on the access to treatment for people who use
drugs only began in Indonesia in 2009, when a new drug law provided
the infrastructure for drug dependency rehabilitation;7 however, the
178 · a smi n f r a n sis ka
deployment of this treatment is limited since the regulation for the law’s
implementation only became active in 2011, and furthermore only acted
upon as a compulsory treatment.8 This example illustrates the extent to
which draconian prohibitionist polices have overshadowed any attempt
at a more humanitarian drug policy within Indonesia.
In order to understand this situation, we must unpack the relationship
between the laws on drugs in Indonesia, which have been developed over
the past few decades and the production and consumption of the drugs
themselves, which have been present in Indonesia for many centuries.
Indonesian drug-use history has its origins long before colonization,
beginning in the early age of the so-called Nusantara (the Indonesian
archipelago), before Indonesia as a country was established.9 Marijuana
and opium were the main drugs in use at that time, originally for food
and beverages.10 However, during the Dutch Colonial period in Indonesia
(18201950), opium production and consumption became increasingly
popular for recreational use amongst both the ‘native’ and colonial
populations.11 The Dutch Colonial government designed a regulated drug
market policy in what was then called the Dutch East Indies and allowed
production and distribution through retail shops and consumption in
several places which were frequented by Europeans as well as locals.12
The structure of the legal drug market of that era brought the Dutch
Colonial government a significant amount of revenue from opium,
coca and other substances that are now perceived to be ‘evil’ drugs.
Wealth was acquired through a model of monopolizing opium and coca
production into colonial hands and distributing the drugs for both local
users and a wider global market.13 A modern, industrialized approach
to drug production and trade, particularly for opium, was firmly
established during the Dutch era.14 Even after the Dutch Colonial-era
ended in Indonesia, Japanese colonization ensured that natives were
unable to develop their own laws and policies.15
The use, consumption and also production of drugs during the
colonial era developed in line with wider ideas of racism in Indonesia.
During the period 16301800, the multinational trading empire
(Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie/VOC) established itself in
Indonesia and created the alliance with the elites to take control over
the region’s resources. However, the VOC declined into bankruptcy
by the end of the 1700s and was replaced by the Dutch government,
which placed its possessions in the East Indies under increasing colonial
rule over the course of the nineteenth century. Racism was used by the
Dutch regime in order to maintain power in the colony, while prejudice
r aci sm i n war o n d r ugs n a r r a tiv es i n ind on e s i a · 179
and stigmatization of marginalized groups was used to divide and
conquer.16 The Indonesian population at the time was divided into three
groups: the European group (all Dutch citizens, and people originally
from Europe and Japan),17 the Far Eastern group (those who were not
included as European or ‘PribumiIndonesian origin, mostly Indian,
Pakistan, Chinese, Arab, etc.),18 and the members of the lowest group
were of Indonesian origin (‘Pribumi’).19
Each of the groups had to comply with a different set of laws and
policies. This differentiated legal system bestowed privilege and
benefits upon the Europeans and stripped rights and protections from
the lowest Indonesian-origin groups, creating division between the
‘native’ populations and the Far Eastern group as well. This division
resulted in the intended consequence of pitting the group of Far East
origin (especially the Chinese population)20 against the Pribumi group,
effectively isolating the groups from each other and eliminating the
opportunity of any alliance between them. Racism was therefore
concretized in legal form in the colonial era and resulted in the
disproportionate application of harsh sanctions such as long periods of
imprisonment and the death penalty on the native population.21
The colonial practice of societal division through racist laws and
policies drove the development of drug policy as well. Although
the drug laws of the colonial era may appear ‘progressive’ by today’s
standards – in terms of having a non-prohibitionist approach to drugs
compared to today’s draconian prohibitionist policy in Indonesia – the
aim of the colonial-era drug policy was for the drug trade’s economic
and financial benefits to accrue only to the colonialists and leave the
Indonesian population with limited access to the economic wealth of
the nation’s resources.22 The law’s underlying racism contributed to
increased prejudice and stigmatization, leading to race riots. The 1740
Batavia Massacre was one of the worst atrocities from that period.
The massacre, conducted by Dutch Colonial forces and some militia
gangs, led to the deaths of 1,789 Chinese people, as the violence spread
from Batavia (now Jakarta) to other cities.23 The riots only fuelled
colonial racial hostilities, leading to subsequent further outbreaks of
violence, mostly between those of Indonesian origin (Javanese most
frequently) and those of Chinese or Arab origin.24 Thus the era of Dutch
colonization, informed by an underlying racial structuring of society,
brought the legacy of European racism into Indonesia in a way that still
reverberates through the country’s contemporary social structure of
racialized neoliberalization and exploitation.25
180 · a smi n f r a n sis ka
During the era of colonization, Europeans and wealthy Indonesians,
mostly of Chinese or prestigious Indonesian origin, could buy drugs
without any worries from the authorities. However, a limit was set
for the maximum quantity that could be bought in the sale areas.26
Furthermore, research from this era suggests that although the majority
of those who were drug dependent were Javanese, the number reduces
dramatically once the category of tobacco use is removed, and the data
presents a picture of opium consumption as dominated by the Chinese
population,27 which gives an indication of how drugs became reflective
of the segregation in Indonesian society.
Nowadays, alongside drug policy, the application of the death penalty
offers another an example of how racial segregation in Indonesia
maintains the legacy of colonization. The current prohibitionist impulse
drives the inability of the Indonesian government to find alternative
solutions for controlling the illicit market of drugs that is growing in
Indonesia. During the colonial era, the death penalty was employed
by Dutch colonial government in order to repress the indigenous
population. The death penalty was usually imposed for rebellion by
supporters of Indonesian independence movements, or by others
unhappy with the social order.28 Today, the death penalty is imposed
for drug offences, with this draconian stance based on the commitment
of successive Indonesian governments to pursuing a ‘War on Drugs’. In
2017, there were 165 convicted people on death row, 75 of them sentenced
for drug offences.29 The total number of executions for drug offences for
the period 201517 stood at 18.30
It is my argument in this chapter that it is important to describe
how racism informs not only a policy of segregation of people based
on race or colour, but also persists within new forms of social identity
in contemporary Indonesia (for example, people who use drugs, who
engage in drug-related crimes, or who are perceived as ‘decadent’ and
‘subversive’). W. E. B Du Bois famously described racism as a ‘colour
line’, but this understanding has been expanded by subsequent post-
colonial and critical race scholarship, which has gradually developed
a language for understanding the plethora of ways for dividing and
separating people because of their race, ethnicity, or religion.31 Racism
also relates to the injustice of drug policy and law, for when the poorest
communities in societies use drugs, they are treated as less than human,
unable to access medical care, or receive a fair trial. The stigma of drug
use leads to an exacerbation of the poverty and social-health issues
of those most vulnerable in society,32 betraying how the language of
r aci sm i n war o n d r ugs n a r r a tiv es i n ind on e s i a · 181
sub-humanity developed by European racism has subsequently evolved
to be applied to new categories of peoples, such as drug users.
Another phenomenon to be noted is how the narrative of the War
on Drugs has become a powerful tool for government to ignore their
duty to protect, fulfil and promote human rights regardless of the social
status, gender, colour, nationality and other identity claims of the
subject. This concept of fighting ‘evil drug use’ successfully establishes
the negative conversation about drugs. The War on Drugs narrative
is a scapegoat used to mask the state’s inability to control illicit drugs,
borders and corrupt bureaucrats, as well as the failure of the criminal
justice system to address the issues of drug dependency, mental health
and the over-representation of foreign nationals in the criminal justice
system (mostly Chinese and African as targeted groups).33
The draconian narrative of the War on Drugs illustrates how the
process of demonizing racialized communities is a social construction.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines racial profiling as ‘any
action undertaken for reasons of safety, security or public protection,
that relies on stereotypes about race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry,
religion, or place of origin, or a combination of these, rather than on
a reasonable suspicion, to single out an individual for greater scrutiny
or different treatment’.34 In the United States, great racial disparities
exist in sentencing for nonviolent crimes, especially property crimes
and drug offences.35 In addition to that, the American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU) adds that there are staggering racial disparities in life-
without-parole sentencing for nonviolent offences.36 In Indonesia, racial
profiling in the policing of people who use and sell drugs is used on a
regular basis. This method targets the people who use and sell drugs
on the basis that they share certain characteristics, such as being an
African migrant, which is often enough to be profiled as a criminal and
subjected to search and arrest by the police.37
At the international level, it can be argued that the racism of drug
laws and policies began over a century ago, when the early League of
Nations opium treaties tried to classify and prohibit certain drugs based
on prejudice towards certain groups of people. This underlying racism
continues to create racial disparities in the application of ‘objective’
drug laws, for instance, the racialized sentencing for cocaine possession
in the US.38 Similar to Indonesia, the US Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986
has ignored empirical, scientific evidence and is instead committed to
an inaccurate perception of differences in the harmfulness and danger
of crack and powder cocaine, therefore offering unbalanced sentences
182 · a smi n f r a n sis ka
for offences involving possession of the same amount of crack cocaine
and powder cocaine.39
From drug control to drug prohibition: the impact of colonization
and international drug control on Indonesian drug policy and laws
The War on Drugs was established and legitimized through interna-
tional legal treaties. The international community, or at least certain
countries, began to negotiate a ‘consensus’ on drug control in Shang-
hai in 1909 at the first major international meeting to control drugs
and other substances.40 The conference focused on restricting opium
consumption, production and distribution, with little regard shown to
the cultural, social and economic history of countries where opium had
traditionally been used. When the Opium Commission organized the
Hague Opium Conference in 1912, the first treaty was signed and used to
establish a legal prohibitionist framework on drugs.41 Drug prohibition
became the norm, as the rest of the twentieth century saw increasing
developments regarding prohibitionist drug laws and policies through-
out the world, especially for opium, which would be controlled by the
League of Nations following the 1912 treaty.42
The international drug control regimes established through the
International Drug Control Conventions on Narcotics43 and the
International Convention on Psychotropic Substances in 197144 are
legally binding for their signatories, which include most member
states of the United Nations. The international drug control regimes
successfully defined the restrictions of using and accessing drugs only
for medical and scientific reasons.45 The negative implications of the
international prohibitionist regime impacted upon Indonesia. As a
member state of the UN and the international drug control regime,
Indonesia limits the use of drugs to medical and scientific purposes
by only allowing limited prescriptions from doctors to justify the use
of psychoactive substances, and the state will imprison those who fail
to prove themselves as innocent on account of having obtained this
medical exemption.46 The authoritarian laws that were enacted from the
Law on Narcotics 1976 until the Drug Law 1997 established new drug
offences in Indonesian law, with the focus being placed on papaver
(the opium poppy), cocaine, morphine, cannabis and their derivatives,
regulating the cultivation of these substances, as well as other chemical
substances such as Ekgonia.47 The Narcotics Law contained criminal
sanctions related to the cultivation and possession of certain types of
... With the new South Africa came one of the world's most progressive constitutions. 11 However, some colonial ideas 4 Laios et al. [4]. 5 9 Hobson [5], Lines [6]. ...
... 10 Musto [7], Wright [8]. 11 Cameron [9]. 3 United Nations General Assembly, Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol. had been 'made local' and escaped scrutiny. ...
... 28 Around the world, punitive drug policy necessitates the surveillance, criminalization and targeting of Black, 12 Scheibe et al. [10]. 13 Shelly and Howell [11]. 14 Framke [12]. ...
Article
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This paper reviews evidence of how drug control has been used to uphold colonial power structures in select countries. It demonstrates the racist and xenophobic impact of drug control policy and proposes a path to move beyond oppressive systems and structures. The ‘colonization of drug control’ refers to the use of drug control by states in Europe and America to advance and sustain the systematic exploitation of people, land and resources and the racialized hierarchies, which were established under colonial control and continue to dominate today. Globally, Black, Brown and Indigenous peoples are disproportionately targeted for drug law enforcement and face discrimination across the criminal system. These communities face higher arrest, prosecution and incarceration rates for drug offenses than other communities, such as majority populations, despite similar rates of drug use and selling among (and between) different races. Current drug policies have contributed to an increase in drug-related deaths, overdoses and sustained transnational criminal enterprises at the expense of the lives of people who use drugs, their families and greater society. This review provides further evidence of the need to reform the current system. It outlines a three-pillared approach to rebuilding drug policy in a way that supports health, dignity and human rights, consisting of: (1) the decriminalization of drugs and their use; (2) an end to the mass incarceration of people who use drugs; (3) the redirection of funding away from ineffective and punitive drug control and toward health and social programs.
... Certain groups using certain drugs have been imprisoned. [31][32][33] The harms of the criminal justice response to drugs are now obvious to many, and no longer easily justified. There is a move toward a more medicalised response -to see people who use drugs as patients, not prisoners. ...
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Difficulties facing black South Africans in exercising their legal rights
  • W Lane
  • A P F Williamson
W. Lane and A. P. F. Williamson, 'Difficulties facing black South Africans in exercising their legal rights' in SPRO-CAS Occasional Publication Number 9: Law, Justice and Society 1972.