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FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: Treat booze as the problem it is

OPINION

It was with relief to hear that the Northern Cape provincial government had reversed the decision to gazette a special dispensation allowing for extended trading hours for alcohol selling businesses.

The special dispensation, by the MEC of Finance, Economic Development and Tourism Maruping Lekwene, was ostensible to allow for those attending the ANC’s 108th birthday celebration in Kimberley next week to drink the night away after what would be a long day of political speeches.

Lekwene caved in after pressure from among others, the public, the ANC in the province, the ANC’s Women’s League and other leaders, such as Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi.

The decision was bad and unacceptable in many ways. The most it can be said for allowing for extended trading hours is that it would allow for the city to tap tourist rands in a manner that it does not usually get to.

While that is not a bad reason in itself, the counterpoints make even this reason not good enough.

For one thing, tampering with liquor trading hours reduced the essence of lawmaking into a capricious activity by authoritarian regimes, who just show they have the power to do as they please.

The decision sent a troublesome message that party gatherings are so important that normal laws can be suspended for their merriment.

For another, it promoted the use of alcohol as integral and essential to the gathering of adults. In a country where alcohol is linked to so many other wrongs, this is just irresponsible.

Each year at every announcement of the annual crime statistics, the police minister and the national police commissioner tell us that most murder, rape and assault cases are linked to people who have been drinking, sometimes together and are known to one another.

*S. Africans warned against binge drinking amid festive season

Alcohol is too much of a health and social problem for us to play “cool kids” who say nothing negative about binge drinking. We have no business being blasé about the effect of alcohol in our society.

To be so is to be denialist. The government of the Northern Cape should know this better than most. The province has the unwanted reputation of being the foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) capital of the country.

A study published by BMC Medicine Journal in 2018 showed how men in low-income groups were most at risk of alcohol-related deaths.

According to the study, “approximately 62,300 died from alcohol-attributable causes of death in South Africa in 2015. With a total of approximately 529,400 deaths from all causes, roughly 1 in 10 deaths was attributable to alcohol use.”

As an influential body, the ANC has the capacity to influence social behaviour. Whichever way one looks at it, alcohol is a serious problem in our society and demands to be treated as such and the governing party can, if it chooses, make a decisive statement about this problem.

To see those entrusted with the stewardship of the state - be it at national, provincial or local government - needing to be persuaded to not promote or encourage alcohol use suggests a government that is tone-deaf and out of touch with the health and social realities of their own country.

And that is an even bigger problem than alcohol abuse.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.

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