This article first appeared in the 29 June 2022 edition of the Cape Argus newspaper.
Cape Town - The Enyobeni tavern tragedy where 21 teenagers met their untimely deaths has reignited long-standing concerns about the increase in underage drinking during school holidays.
This as the Eastern Cape Liquor Board opened criminal charges on Tuesday against the owner of the tavern for breaking the liquor law act by selling alcohol to teenagers and allowing them into the tavern.
According to Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education (aware.org), this was reaching an alarming level, with South African children drinking from as young as 10 years of age.
Molo Songololo director Patric Solomons said there were inadequate community resources available for children and youth in poor under-resourced communities addressing substance use, abuse, and addiction problem.
“Molo Songololo’s work with children and youth, and insights gained into poor under-resourced rural and urban communities like Beaufort West, Atlantis, and Delft, show that alcohol and drug abuse and dependencies are growing.
“Some children as young as 10 years of age easily have access to alcohol and drugs, are exposed to alcohol and drug use, and regularly drink alcohol, smoke dagga, and even experiment with other hard drugs,” he said.
Solomons said their observations were that children and youth who drink alcohol, binge drink or smoke cigarettes and use marijuana and other drugs were more likely than non-users to be exposed to and at risk of injury, accidents, and violence, including sexual abuse, and sexual exploitation.
He said there was also inadequate investment in prevention strategies and programmes and providing teenagers with alternative fun and engaging activities at night.
Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance's deputy chair Lester September called for the National Liquor Act of 2016/7 which includes the 500m proximity rule between liquor outlets and residential areas to be passed and approved by Parliament.
“Research by Professor Charles Parry (Medical Research Council), Professor Lesley London (UCT), and Dr. Richard Matzopoulos (Medical Research Council) quoting WHO research, shows that “longer liquor trading hours directly increase death rates”, and that reducing on-premises trading consumption to 11pm could reduce Cape Town’s murder rate by 350 a year. This speaks to the availability of alcohol as one of the main problems to curbing crime,” he said.
September said there was a link between taverns and liquor outlets and violent crime and social ills such as alcohol abuse, which he said drove children to seek solace in substance abuse and refuge in gangs, where many abused women and did not see drugs as the problem but the solution to numb the pain.
“We ranked number one in the world with the rate of alcohol dependency before Covid-19 and related alcohol restrictions. The Western Cape has the highest rate of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world,” he said.
September said there was a failure of education around what was drinking to excess and a lack of up-to-date alcohol consumption guidelines.