VYTJIE MENTOR COMES clean
After he became violent and brought drugs home, Vytjie Mentor had no choice but to call the police
Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor blames herself for her son’s drug addiction, saying she “chased” work over family.
It’s been a four-year battle that started with dagga and ended with tik.
“I got an interdict against him in November last year. I have taken him to rehab twice already. He is aggressive and is getting dangerous. He sold all his valuables and he broke the flatscreen TV in his room, probably to get a substance from it,” she says.
Mentor is one of an army of South African mothers battling the war on drugs.
Another was former SABC board member Hope Zinde, who was buried this week. Her son Mark has been charged with her murder. The drug tik was found in their home in Pecanwood Estate, Hartbeespoort.
Two days before Zinde’s death, Mentor took to Facebook to tell her friends about her son’s addiction.
“I share this once again to call SA to stand up against the unabating and unchallenged flood of drugs in our society, communities and families,” she wrote.
“This problem, just like corruption, festers because we keep it under wraps when we are dealing with it in our families. Call me stupid. Tell me not to hang my family’s dirty linen in the streets, but I am trying to heal by speaking out, and I am challenging SA to rise up against drugs.”
Mentor told City Press that her son’s drug abuse has caused a lot of stress for her and the family.
“Police and people close to me have been pressuring me to withdraw the charges, and I became too stressed and I was admitted to hospital,” she says.
She was admitted for depression and stress the day after she handed her son over to police and posted about it on social media.
Mentor first suspected her son was on drugs in 2012. “But I only got confirmation the following year,” she says.
“What made me suspicious was that he was a very diligent scholar, but his grades started falling. There were even complaints at school that he started backchatting teachers. Then he stopped going to school.”
In 2013, when she became a member of Parliament, Mentor says she was travelling overseas a lot.
“I designated a woman to assist my children with school work. I only knew three months later that there was a problem with my son at school. He failed his grades and had stopped going to school. And he almost committed suicide,” she says.
From then on, things became worse. And only a few weeks ago, she says, she plucked up the courage to go into his room and find some answers.
She got the shock of her life when she discovered two plastic sachets of tik in his bedroom. Then she knew she had to do something.
Mentor says she didn’t even know it was tik, but found out when a family member confirmed it.
“My son is a very humble boy. But when he started using dagga, his character changed and he began sleeping too much,” she says.
“There was a time when I was very hard on myself – I blamed myself in the early stages of his addiction – but I’m over that now. I knew I gave him grounded parenting.”
However, she says she suspects that sometimes her son took advantage of her because of her overprotection after he fell seriously ill when he was eight. He was in a coma for 16 days and she almost lost him.
“The circumstances about how he fell ill are still unclear. He was playing with other kids. He started sweating and collapsed,” she says.
Even after forensic tests were done, doctors still don’t know what happened to him.
“His speech was slurred. He couldn’t speak or walk; it took him two years to be himself again. I had to remother him. I think he detected that I had a soft spot for him. I got trapped in overprotecting him,” she recalls.
“I did everything in the book and even more to raise him to be a good child – from depriving him of his allowance to withholding benefits. He can’t drive both my cars. I put my foot down,” she says.
Her no-nonsense parenting style led her to obtain an interdict against him from a court in Cape Town, compelling him not to bring drugs into her home. He violated the interdict. “He is in custody as we speak,” she said on Tuesday.
But on Wednesday, Mentor’s son turned 21. Mentor said everyone in the family was begging her to have him released. Although she refuses to confirm that she dropped the charges against him, the boy was released from custody.
“I told him that a good friend of mine, Hope Zinde, was killed by her son because of drug use. He told me: ‘I would never kill you, mama.’”
Although he has done wrong, Mentor’s motherly love for her son will always be there. But he can only stay under her roof on condition he is with family members around the clock until he is admitted to a rehabilitation centre of her choice.
“I’m putting him into an intense rehab centre and it’s a programme that lasts for six months or more,” she adds.
Her advice to other parents is that they understand that dagga is a gateway drug to other illegal substances.
“Whether it is dagga or Grandpa [headache pills], fight from the beginning. When your child changes character, follow up,” she says.
“I ask why many parents keep things to themselves when they discover their children abuse substances or become drug addicts.”
She says parents fear that they will be stigmatised and they think “it’s a shame”.
“I believe I tried everything and that’s why I’m speaking freely. Stop worrying what the world will say,” she says firmly.
Mentor is now helping a number of mothers in similar situations with whom she has become friends on Facebook.
One of those is Molly Tladi, a teacher at Baitshoki Secondary School in Itsoseng in Lichtenburg, North West. Tladi says her son has been using nyaope since he was 17. When a family member told her, she remembers how she felt that a part of her died that day.
Since then, Tladi has been in and out of hospital for depression.
Nyaope, the powdery street drug concoction, has caused a lifetime of heartache not only for its users, but also for those around them. Like Mentor, Tladi took her son to a rehabilitation centre two years ago, but he ran away.
“I got to the point where I was scared of my own son. When he was high, he would become aggressive and I would fear for my life. I was living like a prisoner in my own house,” she says.
Tladi says that her son started stealing clothes, cutlery and anything else he could find in the house to sell.
“He even stole from neighbours, who beat him almost to death. I am waiting for the day I receive a call to fetch his dead body,” she says, fighting back tears.
Tladi says she is relieved that her son is in prison. He was arrested in March for stealing a pair of jeans at an Edgars clothing store. He’d been arrested before.
“He is serving three years. I hope he will come back a changed man. The more I speak about his addiction publicly, the more I find healing,” she says.
Her dream is to start awareness programmes and teach young people about the dangers of substance abuse.
TALKING OUT Vytjie Mentor opens up during an interview in Cape Town about her son’s drug problem