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by Karl Kemp / Images by Jaco du Plessis / 22.12.2014

Originally published on 22 July 2014


Worcester, just beyond the Boland wine region, is two hours northeast of Cape Town. It’s the first notable dorp heading into the Klein Karoo platteland – rural farmlands with a sparse population density, inhabited mainly by white Afrikaans farmers and ‘coloureds’. The Afrikaners and coloureds share many cultural nuances and traditions; like boerekos, a language, Christian faith, and good agricultural practice.

It’s a famously dry region characterised by sprawling tracts of agricultural land nestled between mountain ranges. The long stretches of faded green and gold veld is covered in a thick layer of dust, speckled by keperbome and aloe plants, and delineated by farm fencing and un-tarred roads. The Huguenot Tunnel on the N1 is the last marker of urbanity and the modern world – through its maw lies nothing but dry beauty, and golden Vaal simplicity.

The sun rises and sets quickly here, and the people are attuned to the comfortable routine it brings. They still wave at strangers who drive past (be it in a Ford bakkie or a cart drawn by an ageing mule). Kids still play with draad karre and dolls; buildings bear marks of 80s suburban Vibracrete walls and facebrick planning, and ooms still smoke pipes in suits on their stoeps after Church on Sunday, having driven for an hour from the farm to attend.

Looming in the subtext is the social class divide, drawn (as always in South Africa) along racial lines.


Worcester is the largest town along the famous Route 62, which runs parallel to the national roads. Beyond Worcester, lies the towns of Robertson, Ashton and Montagu further up along the tourist route. All the towns have small business centers surrounded by townships and farmlands. Further up and parallel are De Doorns and Touwsrivier.

Worcester acts as a conduit, a gateway. In many ways, it’s the poster-town of the platteland – dusty, quaint, Afrikaans, mainly agricultural, beautiful (in an understated way) and strangely trapped in the past.

But beneath the picturesque veneer of snow-capped mountains, orchards and vineyards, thrives a gang culture and violent crime is sky-high. Recent years have also seen the rise and spread of tik – South African speciality Methamphetamine, the lifeblood of urban gangs and their acolytes’ drug of choice.

Tik can be snorted or injected, but it’s most commonly smoked through a lollie – a glass pipe made from a bulb, similar to a crack pipe. Effects include euphoria, energy, and a consuming need to copulate. Users experience extreme come-downs that lead to psychotic rage and paranoia. It is massively addictive.


The poorer communities here might share a split heritage with the boere, but their unique socio-economic situation and living conditions have been exploited by opportunistic dealers. The growth of drug abuse has exposed a tear in their community fabric that instantly links them to the maelstrom of gang-warfare associated with their ethnic counterparts in the Cape Flats.

The statistics, whilst fallible, indicate that coloured males in their 20s are the most common users, and that the drug is becoming prevalent amongst teens as well. Worse still, kids look up to gangsters as celebrities, protectors and providers. It’s difficult to picture a Cape Flats gangster, tattooed and terrible, tilling the field and driving a trekker on a small holding olive or wheat farm in the Klein Karoo. It’d be poetic if it wasn’t so massively fucked up.

Dan Plato, minister of community safety in the provincial DA government, has been clamouring for specialised drug-and-gang police units to be reinstated since 2011, and the situation has only grown progressively worse. R12-billion worth of drugs have been seized in the Western Cape in the past two years alone, and the Langeberg district’s contribution has grown considerably during that time.

The minister’s latest public comment lamented the culpability of rural youths, which was the incentive behind our investigation… to unravel the growing phenomenon of the platteland tik-addict; what’s at the root of the addiction, where the drugs are coming from, and what’s led to its proliferation.

Our first stop is the only registered rehab facility for hundreds of kilometres; Toevlug, in Worcester, where we went to see the effects of tik abuse first hand, and to begin to uncover why and how this terrible drug has infiltrated a quiet, rural farming region.


*Images © Jaco du Plessis

**Read Part II HERE



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