James beacon of hope to her fellow community members

It is true when they say a mother’s love is a force like no other.

When Dereleen James, 44, a mother from Eldorado Park, in the south of Johannesburg, discovered her son’s drug addiction, she used the harsh reality she was faced with to become a beacon of hope to her fellow community members.

James’ son used drugs for almost three years, weighing 37kg at the time and doctors said he was going to die.


Because of her son’s addiction, James discovered her passion and purpose in life and founded a non-profit organisation she calls the Yellow Ribbon Foundation.

Because of the experience, she dedicated her life and time to turn not only her son’s life around, but also to make effective change in her community.

The foundation’s mission is also to encourage synergy between government departments and the role they play towards the dream of a drug-free SA.

She challenged drug lords by writing a heart-wrenching letter to former president Jacob Zuma in 2013, breaking the silence, stigma and highlighting the harsh realities of a mother living with a child on drugs.

In the leer, which went viral and gained global acclaim, James urged Zuma to help locals with the scourge of drugs and its crippling effect on their community.

“Seven years later, we have realised that changing the narrative in our lives, community starts and ends with us as individuals. We are challenged with tough circumstances that grooms us to be beacons of hope to others.”

“Our consistent activism as individuals has made us realise that the only way to winning and eradicating evil is by working together and not depending on government,” she said.

But she has made several strides since 2013 – which include a safe house she started, a rehab in conjunction with Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and operational Community Policing Forum in partnership with SAPS and the Yellow Ribbon Foundation.

James has gone beyond the call of drug addiction as she has also been assisting with food donations during this COVID-19 pandemic.

She was also awarded Lead SA hero of the month by Primedia Group for writing the “Dear Dad” letter to Zuma and the Active Citizen award by former police commissioner Riah Phiyega in 2013.

In 2015, James was chosen by the US embassy to take part in President Barack Obama’s three -week international leadership programme as an emerging South African leader.

“I appreciate my journey with my son, it led to me finding my passion. My son has been clean for about five years now and managed to complete his matric last year. Since he has been clean, he managed to restore his relationship with his sister after it was broken down by his drug problems,” she concludes.

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