DA Leader Mmusi Maimane in eThekwini today after leading a march of thousands of young South Africans to the Phoenix Police Station, to commemorate Youth Day made the statement below.

My fellow South Africans,

There is a good reason why we are at our most hopeful when we are young. It is because the world needs the optimism of youth to propel it forward.

As we get older, we slowly start to lose the ability to imagine a future of infinite possibilities. But when we are young the sky is the limit. We can dream of becoming anything, of achieving anything and of changing anything.

Nelson Mandela once said: Whenever I am with energetic young people, I feel like a recharged battery. He knew why it was worth protecting young people’s vibrancy.

The biggest wrong that we can do in society is to allow the spirit of youth to be stolen from our young people.

And that is precisely what we do when we allow our children to fall under the spell of drugs and the evil people who distribute them.

Nothing destroys the life of a child like the effects of drug addiction. Nothing steals their youth faster than growing up in a culture of drug abuse, violence and gangsterism.

Here in Phoenix you know all about the dangers of drugs and gangs. You see and you feel these dangers every single day.

Some of you have already lost children to these dangers. Many more of you are watching helplessly as your boys and girls are targeted by these predators who bring these things into your community.

You warn them. You plead with them. But the temptation is often too big for any parent to prevent.

I am a father myself. I have two beautiful children whom I want to shield from everything that could possibly threaten them. But I know there is only so much I, or any parent, can do to keep them out of harm’s way.

The fight against the people who sell drugs in our communities – and who use children to sell them to other children – is a battle that can only be won if we all stand together and fight it on all fronts.

And by “all” I mean parents, grand-parents, brothers and sisters. I mean teachers and principals, preachers and social workers. I mean politicians, police officers and doctors.

We must investigate, arrest and prosecute the criminals who come and sell drugs to our children.

We must offer those who got themselves caught up in drug abuse a way out through rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

We must warn those not yet trapped about the dangers of drugs and gangs.

We must offer young people healthy alternatives to this lifestyle.

And we must build a society and an economy where every child has hope for a better future – where there is so much more to look forward to than the quick thrills of drugs and crime.

At the DA, we understand just how important it is to look after our children. We take the fight against drugs and gangs very seriously in the metros and the province where we govern.

We have been calling for the re-establishment of a national specialised anti-drug unit ever since it was disbanded by the ANC government in 2003. During this time drug busts have steadily declined while drug-related crimes have sky-rocketed.

What we finally got, a year after President Zuma promised to re-introduce such a unit in his 2016 SONA speech, was 40 people sitting in the Hawks. It is hardly surprising that this understaffed office has made no impact at all in the fight against drugs.

So where the DA governs, we have done it ourselves. We cannot wait around for the ANC, while our children are dying.

The City of Cape Town’s Gang and Drug Task Team is raiding drug dens, busting dealers and fighting to take back the streets from gangsters.

In cities like Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, where we have been in government for almost a year now, many of our new initiatives are already reaping rewards.

In Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga launched an Anti-Drug Unit in the Metro Police, in Nelson Mandela Bay Mayor Athol Trollip launched a brand new Metro Police Force and in Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba launched a K-9 Narcotics Unit.

All three of these units have already had success in combatting the drug trade in these DA-run cities.

Earlier this year the Johannesburg K-9 Unit made a drug bust in Glenvista where TIK, Kat and drug chemicals worth R10 million were seized. These drugs were destined to supply hundreds of dealers across the city.

Mayor Mashaba has also committed to a pilot project whereby selected clinics in drug-affected parts of Johannesburg will offer rehabilitation services to these communities.

This is in line with what we already offer in Cape Town, where six outpatient rehab clinics offer a free 16-week treatment programme, with no waiting period. The City of Cape Town also has a 24-hour drug helpline.

But locking up dealers and treating addiction is just half the battle. The other half is making sure our children are not tempted into the world of drugs and gangs in the first place.

And this must start with quality education. The struggle of ’76 was for an education that frees us and gives us choices in life. Today this is still our struggle.

Again, this is not something government should do alone. We believe there is great value in private-public partnerships in education – what we refer to as charter schools. We must explore every possible avenue that places the needs of the child at the centre of our education system.

Where we govern we understand that schools should empower our children and not the unions. Which is why the Western Cape runs the best education department in the country – something Minister Motshekga agrees with.

At the same time we need to transform our cities into growing economic hubs, where job opportunities offer young South Africans a way out of poverty and desperation.

In the South Africa we want to build, this would include a post-school internship programme where young people can learn the skills and gain the work experience to set them up for life.

But more immediately, we need to offer our children an alternative to spending their days on the street where they are easily pulled into a dangerous lifestyle.

And this is where having a caring government in your city over an extended period really pays off. The DA-run City of Cape Town now offers over 180 youth interventions aimed at keeping young people off the streets while developing crucial life skills.

These initiatives include sports development programmes, afterschool and holiday programmes, apprenticeships, leadership development courses, computer skills courses, career workshops, book clubs, maths tutorials and many, many more.

You see, it’s one thing to talk about cherishing our youth and protecting them from the dangers of drugs and gangs. But talk is cheap. You need to look at actions.

My fellow South Africans

What you want for your children is the same things I want for mine.

I want them to grow up knowing they are safe, knowing they are loved and knowing that they are an important and valuable part of society.

I want my children to carry on believing in dreams. I want them to take their time in reaching adulthood. And once they get there, I want them to have the opportunities to make the most in life.

I know this is what you want for your children too. And I assure you, under a DA government, they will have the best possible chance at achieving this.

Thank you.