The writer says the double prohibition on cigarettes and alcohol is arbitrary at best and authoritarian at worst. Photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives
The writer says the double prohibition on cigarettes and alcohol is arbitrary at best and authoritarian at worst. Photo: African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Hallowed be thy liberties: Alcohol, cigarette ban is authoritarian at worst

By Raïs Jamodien Time of article published May 2, 2020

Share this article:

CAPE TOWN – Well-noting the dangers and often fatal outcomes caused by the excessive use of cigarettes and alcohol (these dangers ever more at the fore due to the Covid-19 pandemic), and well-commending the government’s response to the national disaster we find ourselves in, one cannot help but be shocked at the direct state intervention on ordinary peoples’ ordinary pleasures resulting from this archaic Caesarean edict from the elites of our idle democracy, prohibiting the aforementioned products.

From our television screens, we have watched President Cyril Ramaphosa thanking the collective South African nation, for our co-operation with the regime’s mandates in the face of the pandemic. Many problems arise from this “collective South African” narrative, the central critique being that the aforementioned narrative is a fiction.

This republic is divided in social duty, in economic disparity, in age-old apartheid-bred racism. It is wholly irresponsible for the President to soothingly thank the billionaire in Sandton and the peasant farm worker of the nether reaches as if they were equals who have played equal parts, for surely the farmers and the workers have given to the nation more than the billionaire ever could.

For them, the lockdown has resulted in a severe, life-threatening loss of income, forced seclusion in often damp, vermin-infested, hazardous shanty towns and poorly constructed state housing. For them, this ordeal has meant a managing of resources, incomprehensible to that of the Sandton billionaire.

The “thank yous” and “well dones” of President Ramaphosa fall on hardened hearts and deaf ears, to the masses of peoples who have been chastised and ostracised by the regime of this country perpetually. Instead of a television screen with which to see the worried father’s face and hear his adulations, the shack-dwellers of Khayelitsha have rusted, bullet-ridden sheets of corrugated iron. Instead of newspapers in which to read the ruling party’s supposed triumphs against the disastrous virus, the farmworkers of Robertson and the miners of eGoli have illiteracy and a meagre income, and hardened, laboured hands.

Now, the suddenly moral and righteous ANC cabal have ordained these exact workers not even be able to enjoy a cigarette or a simple beer at the end of a day in their Casspir-ridden townships where the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) has been brutalising the ordinary, law-abiding people, and the SA Police Service (SAPS) has been raiding, fining and confiscating the now illegal cigarette packages from the small spaza shops of an industrious immigrant class.

The double prohibition on cigarettes and alcohol is arbitrary at best and authoritarian at worst. It is a democratically elected government in a republic with perhaps the most venerated constitution in the world, which has with the stroke of a pen, outlawed two products of pleasure, and with it fundamental and basic liberties. Its arbitrariness is founded on the government’s premise that the ban of these products would lead to a less fatal outcome of Covid-19, since the virus is pulmonary, and cigarettes wear down the lungs and alcohol the immune system at large.

If this be the regime’s premise, then similarly sugar, butter, all the ultra-processed foods high in fat and empty calories which adorn our free-market supermarkets – should these not be banned as well? Should fizzy drinks, ice cream, desserts, extra-rich-butter-infused-cheesy-fried-sausages be banned along the same lines as cigarettes and alcohol have been? Would their consumption not equally lead to and encourage the progression of the virus?

All of these products have scientifically been linked to the development of cancer, heart disease, and countless other ailments. Our hallowed Constitution in s12(1)(a) thereof proclaims: “Everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause.” Pray tell, President Ramaphosa, what is your just cause in denying the ordinary, hard-working men and women of this country of their small, simple pleasures?

If it be that you and your associates of the haute bourgeoisie have suddenly taken such immense interest in the health of the masses of this country to dictatorially and so directly intervene in the daily lives of your subjects, here too you would be acting unconstitutionally. The Constitution in s12(2)(b) proclaims: “Everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to security in and control over their body.” It may well be, Mr President that the capitalist, free-market utopia, which is the Republic of South Africa, owns our miserly-payed and overlooked labour, but your utopia does not own our bodies.

Lest we forget, the mass numbers of diagnosed and recovering drug-addicts and alcoholics who equally are citizens of this constitutional democracy. The former for whom a cigarette is often a medical therapy used to wean off hard drugs such as tik and heroin, the latter for whom the sudden and complete withdrawal from alcohol could lead to fatality. Any medical practitioner would advise that a sudden parting with alcohol for chronic alcoholics is scientifically related to an unstable mental state, which often results in hallucinations and suicide. Is the South African state ready to forgo the most sanctified s10 of our Constitution, the recognition of the inherent human dignity of every person, and arguably the subsequent s11 right to life?

Let us be clear here, most of the victims of drug and alcohol abuse are, because of historical and current economic factors, the working classes. Once again, it is the working classes, and not the billionaire Sandtonite, being deprived of their simple pleasures and basic rights. For while the haute bourgeoisie – to whom the nouveau riche ANC ruling class now belong – were able to legally stock up on two months’ worth of the finest liquor and cartons of their favourite cigarette brand, hoarding it away in their ivory towers in Bantry Bay and Houghton, the working classes, the proletariat, the peasantry did not and do not have the economic nor spatial capacity to do the same.

The once proud cadres of the once esteemed ANC now enjoy their favourite cigarette in their favourite leather comforter with a generous glass of their favourite bourbon – erstwhile revolutionaries who have since become champagne socialists (pun very much intended).

President Ramaphosa has seen South Africa now join the likes of Iran and Saudi Arabia in our disdain for liquor, on the road to our own African version of a theocratic, oligarchical, totalitarian state perhaps, where the supreme leader and their allies may, when the clock strikes pandemic, forfeit the hallowed provisions of our constitution, and arbitrarily criminalise the productive masses of the nation, while the ruling political and economic elite (South Africa’s own Al Saud dynasty) hides away in their palaces, villas and private estates, with liquid gold flowing in debauched hypocrisy.

South Africa has also now joined the ranks of Bhutan and Turkmenistan in its disdain of the cigarette vice. Turkmenistan, the longtime playground of the master of arbitrary rules, the dictator Turkmenbashi, who banned the opera, ballet and circuses and banned black cars because he preferred white ones. Turkmenbashi in a further arbitrary nature changed the name of bread and the month of April in the local tongue to his mother’s name. Does a new dawn of arbitrary bureaucracy await us too, under the guise of a benevolent, all-powerful father figure?

If this were the socialist utopia which generations of our countrymen were martyred in the pursuit of, and of which ideology the fat cats of the ANC government have since eschewed in favour of the ideology of Coca-Cola, private diamond mines, and waxed sports cars, a socialist utopia where every citizen was entitled to free and quality lung and liver transplants, and cancer treatments of the best kind, and immaculate hospital beds, where the taxpayer’s money directly funded their longevity, and the state had an interest in preserving the life of every individual, not because the lack of healthy individuals would result in a poor national fiscus and consequently a reduction in living standards of the landed bourgeoisie, but because it valued the life of its citizens and wholeheartedly endeavored to “Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights,” then perhaps we, as the enlightened masses, would heed the government’s prohibition and intervention in our simple pleasures.

But until that day, may we fight to preserve the integrity of our liberty with all of our might.

Writes the esteemed Pakistani-British thinker, writer and revolutionary Tariq Ali, “This is the permanent tension that lies at the heart of a capitalist democracy and is exacerbated in times of crisis. In order to ensure the survival of the richest, it is democracy that has to be heavily regulated rather than capitalism.”

Our nation, which art in jeopardy. Hallowed be thy liberties.

Share this article:

Related Articles