By Lynnette Johns

The illegal dop system is still being used by farmers in the Western Cape, says a pressure group.

The president of the Black Association of the Wine and Spirits Industry (Bawsi), Nosey Pieterse, said although the system had been outlawed in the 1990s, some farmers still used it.

"The dop system has been driven underground and operates clandestinely because of the negatives attached to it and the damage it will do to business because the world and South Africa condemns it," he said.

The association has briefed a firm of attorneys to challenge the agricultural industry and the government in court on the high levels of alcoholism among farmworkers.

The link between the dop system and alcoholism is clear, Pieterse said. Farmworkers were given alcohol as part of their wages and became addicted. "The legacy of the dop system is alcoholism."

Pieterse said the dop system had led to a reliance on alcohol for which the agricultural industry and the government had to bear responsibility.

"Even though it was the old government that banned the system, this government inherited the problem and they have to take responsibility," Pieterse said.

Bawsi has briefed lawyers and is collating expert research to show the hereditary dangers of alcoholism, and its effect on children and the community.

Pieterse said if they won their case they would use a damages payment to build an alcoholic treatment facility and to set up a fund which will be used to change attitudes to drinking.

Alcohol abuse among Western Cape farmworkers is again under the spotlight with government, NGOs and the wine industry co-operating to tackle the problem.

Following a seminar at Goudini Spa last month, government representatives, non-government organisations, various alcohol abuse associations and industry players will join forces next week to form the Alcohol Abuse Forum to thrash out a strategy.

Provincial Minister of Agriculture Cobus Dowry said he was extremely concerned about alcohol abuse in rural communities.

"Alcohol abuse could lead to the moral decay of the entire rural community; we have committed ourselves to developing an strategy with all stakeholders. Already I have seen that many organisations are duplicating work instead of coming together, seeing where the gaps are and working together."

Danie Niemand, the Department of Agriculture's director of farmworker development, said: "We are taking a new approach to dealing with alcohol abuse.

"Our department as well as the Department of Social Services will join industry, NGOs and organisations to work on a strategy to deal with social ills associated with alcohol abuse and how to curb it."

The Western Cape is the only province with a farmworker development programme where they are taught agricultural and social skills.

"We started the programme three years ago. Workers are trained at Elsenburg, the department's agricultural college. The training is done in a holistic way, looking at the worker in the family and community.

"Among the reasons why alcohol abuse is so rife are living conditions, seasonal work, lack of education and poverty," Niemand added.

Family violence, drug abuse and crime are some of the social ills associated with alcohol abuse, but the most serious is foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

The Western Cape has the highest incidence of FAS in the world, with most of such births happening in rural areas.

In the United States FAS affects one in every 1 000 births, compared to the South African average of 20 babies per 1 000 born.

This figure increases dramatically in rural areas where statistics show between 46 to 103 per 1 000 births are affected.

There are a number of organisations that deal with children affected by the syndrome.

Lucy Warner of Pebbles, an organisation that runs crèches for children with FAS, said even though lots of great work was being done, "there is a long way to go in dealing with alcohol abuse".

"We need to work together to address alcohol abuse," Warner said.

Members of Bawsi attended the seminar and are also members of the new forum.