Age ain’t nothing but a number

2011-03-12 08:46

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor this week ­announced that they would seek to raise the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 years.

Pandor is spot-on when she says the social ­effects of alcoholism far outweigh the economic ­impact of the sale of alcohol.

The negative social effects of alcohol abuse are well known. Gender-based violence, foetal alcohol syndrome, road accidents and, as police statistics show every year, most murder perpetrators and victims would have known each other and were very likely drinking together when the killing ­took place.

However, we take issue with the legal drinking age being made the focal point of the ­campaign at the expense of the culture of ­drinking and bingeing in general.

It is not only people under the age of 21 who are afflicted by the aforementioned social effects.

Drinking and driving is not any more acceptable because the drinker is of age, just as it is cold comfort to a child born with foetal alcohol syndrome that it was conceived by a woman of mature age.

The damage to family life as a result of violence in the home is often caused by adults far above the age mooted by the ministers.

The ministers should rather lead a campaign against the glamorising of debauchery and binge drinking.

Underage drinking, like underage sex, speaks to a dominant culture in the lives of the youngsters concerned that cannot always be addressed by the passing of a law.

Increasing the legal age of drinking might ­reduce the number of young people ­drinking but will have little impact unless we address the culture that has all but legitimised abusing alcohol.

We hope that the ministers will have the legs to take this noble initiative the whole hog.

Alcohol abuse is too serious to be reduced to a ­vote­catching phrase.

Just a few years ago, the ANC Youth League led a campaign demanding that the trading hours of alcohol-selling outlets be limited. Their successors are today arguing that outlets with links to the ANC should be exempt from such ­regulations.

Dlamini and Pandor must therefore start by asking that their comrades lead by example.

They must see to it that never again should the chief of police feel no shame in walking into a shebeen, no matter how high class, still in full uniform, the way General Bheki Cele did after the opening of ­Parliament last month.

It is of course not only an ANC or government issue. All of us must start a conversation that seeks to reverse the shameful place that abusing alcohol has acquired in our society.

There must be no honour in being a “phuza nation”.

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