Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)
Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

All together say: 'We’ve got a drinking problem'

By Victor Kgomoeswana Time of article published Jun 7, 2020

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Wise people say a crisis should never be wasted. By this they imply that one should extract as much good out of every adversity, for example, learning, as is possible.

Among what we have learnt from our time with Covid-19 is the realisation we must live, work and play differently. The coronavirus brought into sharp focus the critical importance of basic hygiene and physical distancing.

One could say we needed a pandemic to refresh our primary school teachings about washing our hands with soap and cleaning our environment diligently to slow down the spread of infection.

From now on, vaccine, cure or not, lockdown also schooled us to take care of what we had always taken for granted and to abandon the worthless habits we spend too much time, effort and money on.

May our abuse of alcohol be one of these! With our migration to level 3 on Monday, alcohol sales returned to shameful scenes at liquor outlets. Some of my fellow South Africans demonstrated a lack of appreciation of decorum in celebrating flamboyantly the return of alcoholic beverages to our retail outlets and the reopening of drinking holes.

In typical African style, some were singing their own “songs of freedom” - even accompanied in certain instances by brass bands.

Is this me moralising, judging or picking on innocent compatriots? Is this a call for the banning of alcohol? Could this be an attempt to patronise grown-up men and women or even an expression of my insensitivity over the negative psychological effects of the lockdown? None of the above.

June is Youth Month. In about a week we will be commemorating the 44th anniversary of the June 16 Soweto Uprising. Anyone who was in Soweto on the day will tell you that the first businesses to be attacked or set alight were shebeens, beer halls and bottle stores.

Read Let My People Go by Chief Albert Luthuli to hear about the struggles the anti-apartheid formations waged against the sale of alcohol in black communities.

Watch Boyz in the Hood, a 1991 movie by John Singleton, in which Furious Styles (played by Laurence Fishburne) warns the young men growing up in gang-infested South-Central Los Angeles about how liquor and guns were always sold next to each other.

His reasoning: young black men do not stand a chance because of the toxic combination of gun violence fuelled by socio-economic hardship, drugs, alcohol and freely available firearms.

One of the positives of the lockdown, when alcohol was not being sold, was outpatient and casualty wards at hospitals being able to breathe easier to handle real medical emergencies because they were not overwhelmed as usual by injuries resulting from drunken driving or walking, incessant fighting in homes, at parties and in shebeens.

South Africa has its share of sociopathy in the form of violence against women and children. Drugs and alcohol abuse are at the core of the malady. They are not the only cause but are a major catalyst.

It is time to stop fearing the alienation of our friends, clients, voters or to place less value on relevance on social media - and admit that we have a drinking problem, as the late Hugh Masekela said, which we are in denial about.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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