Mthembu shares a father's agony

THERE are moments when a talk show becomes a platform for human beings to share their highs and lows, to inspire each other, hold each other's hands and declare "we are in this together".

This happened a few days ago when parents of drug addicts phoned to share the tumultuous journey of raising a child who is a drug addict.

This was inspired by the death of British music icon Amy Winehouse.

Though the post-mortem did not clearly determine the clear cause of her death, speculation is rife that she is likely to have succumbed to a drug overdose at the tender age of 27.

You might ask, as some have, what the death of Winehouse have to do with us? My answer is: everything!

Drugs annihilate families and destroy our very own society, so if we can use the occasion of the death of a superstar to remind ourselves of the need to commit to the fight against this scourge, then we must.

The conversation was less about the drug addict but more an opportunity to hear the voices of the parents who often have to step in to pick up the pieces of their children's broken lives.

Often when a child behaves badly, fingers are pointed at the parents.

But to argue that parents are always completely responsible for their children's choices is an unfair oversimplification of a very complex issue.

I asked the parents, how do you love a child who is on a path to self-destruction?

Do you let go and accept that their choices will lead to an early death?

Do you step in and fight to protect them from themselves?

These questions were aimed at giving the parents a voice.

In an emotional interview three years ago, Winehouse's father, Mitch, told the world that doctors had warned that his daughter could be wheelchair-bound and be required to wear an oxygen mask if she did not heed medical advice and quit drugs.

It must have been heart-wrenching for him to say: "To think this could be my beautiful 24-year-old daughter's life is preposterous.

"But if drugs mean more to her than breathing properly, then so be it."

I still can't get my head around the horror of knowing that your child is likely to die an agonising and premature death and that apart from loving them, financing their treatment and rehabilitation, there is not much more that you can do.

Days after that conversation I am still inundated with e-mails from parents who have lost their children to drug addiction.

Others had inspiring stories of healing to share with us.

But countless parents still go to bed at night not knowing where their sons and daughters are.

Another mother had not seen her son in three years after she eventually ran out of options and kicked him out for his violent behaviour.

He had stolen, lied and manipulated the family.

After years of trying to help him she had reached the end of her tether and showed him the door.

That did not make life any easier because her heart aches with love for her son, who is still on a path of destruction.

But the hero of the show was ANC national spokesperson Jackson Mthembu, who willingly phoned in and poured his heart out about the battle raging in his own family.

He too had tried everything to get his son clean. Like many parents, he ultimately had to step back and watch his child make destructive choices.

Over and over again Mthembu asked: "What do you do?"

Suddenly Mthembu was no longer a politician, no longer a know-it-all commentator, but a human being who has had to love and let go.

At that moment, none of the other parents who responded to this topic cared about politics.

There was no contentious issue to debate but rather a recognition of our common humanity and the fears that plague us all as we try to nurture loved ones who have chosen a different path for themselves.

In this closed society, where hardships are usually concealed, it was refreshing for a leader to come out and say "me too".

With that single act, Mthembu closed the distance between himself and those he leads.

I salute you.