The F-word: State acts in the apartheid spirit

2013-03-24 10:00

After returning from about three decades of exile, celebrated jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela released the song Khawuleza, the lyrics of which included: “Fihlani amagogogo otshwala, nanka amaphoyisa ayongen’ endlini...”

Loosely translated, it means: “Ask someone to hide the drums of (illicit, home-brewed) alcohol because the cops are heading for their (township) home to arrest the brewmistress and the patrons...”

It was a throwback to a time when the mere act of drinking alcohol was an act of bravery and rebellion.

In those dark days of apartheid, black people were, by law, not allowed to drink “white man’s alcohol” and had to make a plan with local concoctions that the cops could destroy at any time.

The entrepreneurial and daring became bootleggers, smuggling various alcoholic spirits.

The apartheid government which, in its wisdom, believed that black people, being the perennial children that they were, were simply incapable of handling alcohol.

Our government is dead set on returning us to that period.

Unlike with the National Party, however, the ANC-led government has non-racialised the way they patronise citizens.

Government seeks to increase the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 and the Gauteng government wants to ban the sale of alcohol on Sundays.

For some reason, the state believes that the effect of buying alcohol and drinking it on the other six days are more tolerable than doing it over seven.

There is a case for engaging with the levels of drinking we see.

Crime statistics keep showing that in many instances, murderers and their victims had been drinking together before the killings occurred.

European trainee doctors queue up to do their internships at our hospitals because they are likely to see in one weekend what they will see in a year in their home nations because of booze-induced injuries.

Countless families have been broken.

Very talented people have ended up never living up to their potential because of booze.

That said, alcohol is merely emblematic of what is wrong with our society.

It is a symbol of a greater malaise that will not be cured by closing the taps on a Sunday.

In fact, as was the case during the Prohibition era in the US and for black people in South Africa, it will spawn new criminal enterprises.

Legislative interventions for undeniably bad and socially costly personal choices have the unintended consequence

of sowing seeds for forbidden fruits. These, in turn, create their own markets and a new cycle of antisocial behaviour that needs policing.

Instead of legislating adult lifestyle choices, the state could do better by spending some of its considerable resources – like the R25 billion it wasted in the previous financial year – on aggressively promoting better lifestyle choices.

One of government’s many failures has been its insistence that it has all the answers or that it can do whatever it likes.

It is this attitude that stripped power utility Eskom of its ability to adequately and timeously respond to future electricity needs.

It was this thinking that drove the state to capriciously decide to make Khutsong part of North West.

Despite warnings from experts, this very government closed specialist police units, teacher training colleges and imposed outcomes-based education when teachers and pupils were ill-prepared and ill-equipped for the programme.

In each of these instances, it returned to the previous status quo with its tail behind its legs.

Yet it refuses to make citizens part of the thinking processes and finding sustainable and appropriate solutions.

We may not know how much electricity our nation will need in the future, but we know too well the effects of alcohol on our society.

The state shouldn’t impose its wisdom on us. Its track record does not justify such hubris.

» Follow me on Twitter @fikelelo

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