Knocking out booze ads is a woozy idea

2011-04-30 13:17

Growing up in Dobsonville, one of the highlights of my day was to see Peter ­“Terror” Mathebula, South Africa’s first black world boxing champion, walk the streets or in the pews of St Angela’s Catholic Church where he worshipped.

He was my ultimate superhero. It helped that he had a soft spot for kids and would regularly get boys from the neighbourhood where he was renting a room to “help” him train by holding the punchbag as he went through his paces.

Terror also appeared in magazine pictures wearing the Old Buck Belt of South African boxing champions, advertising a drink township folk called “sputla”.

According to a certain segment of Mother Grundies, the likes of Terror made people believe that they became legends because they consumed “sputla” – and us impressionable ones would – in wanting to be like him, also go out of our way to drink this beverage. That is why they want to see all alcohol advertising banned.

You may or may not believe this, ­despite my adoration for Terror, I never tried the stuff. But there is a group of people using their money, time and other resources to prove that I was a freak for not falling for the ad and its association with a successful and popular figure of the day.

It feels to me that if there is anyone punch-drunk, it is this lobby.

They seek to treat a nation as though it were a class of Sunday school children.

Some of them want to ban the sale of alcohol on Sundays. If drinking alcohol is bad it cannot be any worse on Sunday.

We seem to have adopted the defunct National Party’s fixation with being a “Christian nation” – allowed to play and sin on any weekday but not on ­Sunday.

We have forgotten that we are a secular state that recognises equally the right to believe and not to believe.

For even if we were to go along with the argument that we are a predominantly Christian country, why treat as lesser, the day of those Christians – like the Seventh Day ­Adventists or the Nazareth Baptist Church (Shembe) – for whom Saturday is a day of worship?

The effects of alcohol abuse in our country are uncontested.

I am not indifferent to the numbers of children born with alcohol foetal syndrome; of the many road accident deaths and injuries and ­violence between family members and friends as a result of being drunk.

I, however, do not see how we cure this by banning the advertising of alcohol or not selling it on Sundays.

Anyone who says they drink because they saw Dutch football legend Ruud Gullit say in a beer advert that he travels the world to find champions is an irredeemable idiot who won’t be helped by any advertising blackout.

Same applies to those who believe consuming SABMiller’s finest made the Springboks rugby world champions.

Banning alcohol adverts is different from cigarette advertising because unlike with cigarettes, it is quite possible to drink responsibly and healthily as doctors tell us.

Instead of rushing to ban alcohol advertising, we should be using the energy to raise awareness about binge-drinking and to promote healthier lifestyles.

In that way, we would not only be dealing with the adverse effects of binge- drinking, but also of other excesses such as eating too much of the wrong foods, smoking and general sloth.

Once we have banned alcohol advertising what will stop us from banning certain fast-food chains that sell products that contribute to making children obese?

And while at it why not ban TV games because they too contribute to this lifestyle our children live? Adults must take responsibility for their actions and the ­behavioural traits their children develop.

Deferring this responsibility to the state or blaming the advertising industry for marketing perfectly legal goods is to turn government into a big daddy that must parent us.

If we allow this we will be on a slippery slope to institutionalised paternalism.

And after apartheid, we might just need a real strong drink to live through it again.

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