Of rum and revolutionary ideas

2011-12-10 18:43

I can’t remember a Christmas without booze.

I’m not talking about my drinking habits – I’m referring to the social presence of alcohol during this season’s festivities.

Very early on in my childhood I came to accept drink as part of what people do when they’re making merry.

Not just for Christmas; it happens even at ancestral rituals concerned with giving thanks, precisely because these cultural rites sometimes coincide with Jesus’ birthday.

So it’s in the context of this socialisation that I read Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s call for the state to ban booze at government year-end parties.

Politics and liquor, or should I say rum and revolutionary ideas, have never been too far apart. History is replete with politicians intervening in drinking cultures for all manner of reasons. Sometimes these interventions have the opposite effect to what was intended.

Think about the American prohibition, which lasted from 1920 to 1933. It was instituted by a goverment intent on limiting the negative social effects of rampant drinking.

The result was a grand mushrooming of illegal drinking dens across the North American continent.

In apartheid South Africa, black people were barred from trading in booze until the early 1960s. That prohibition only encouraged an explosion of shebeens in the townships trading illegally across the country.

The “underground” drinking culture that followed had dire social effects as revellers abused the substance.

I must also remind you that at the height of the freedom struggle, when people noticed how alcohol abuse was de-mobilising the people’s movement, conscious uncles brought down state-funded beer halls with Molotov cocktails.

So being anti booze became an act of revolution, or even a political projection of love for the community of the wretched.

Dlamini’s proposal is perhaps a slight throwback to that historical moment, except with less of that old revolutionary sheen.

However, I wonder whether disallowing alcoholic beverages at state department’s year-end parties will do much to temper our national drinking appetite. It might just mean bad attendance.

The way I see it, making it exclusively about drinking less booze and responsible driving during the unfolding festive season is to miss an opportunity to confront our collective malady: everybody is high on something over here; some are even high on looting.

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