Drugs and Work. Like oil and water, surely. In fact, the view that drugs and work are polar opposites is relatively new: cannabis, coca, opium--not to mention psychoactive substances that remained legal, notably sugar and caffeine--have long helped to offset tiredness, hunger, and boredom, and provide relaxation after activities.
South Africa is an exemplary example of how psychoactive substances/drugs were used to promote racial capitalism. Farm owners paid workers in ‘tots’ of wine, mines recruited black workers with promises of beer, and municipalities reaped huge profits from beer halls established close to workplaces. Yet, as South Africa threw off the yolk of colonialism, these narcotic histories came to be separated from a perceived newer problem of ‘drugs’ driven by the opening of borders in the democratic era.
As I show in this project, South Africa's racialized inequalities drive the continued entanglement of drugs and work. Heroin using young men--stereotyped as lazy criminals--can work diligently sweeping yards, collecting scrap, and washing cars to afford to buy the drug. They are part of a global laboring poor. Mandrax, the sleeping medicine, was long smoked after work in a 'white pipe' to relax. Xanax is illicitly bought at the poorest schools for R5 (30 cents) when learners face pressure not to drop out but view, at the end of schooling, youth unemployment rates of over 60%.