Booze ban: a cop-out for the real issues

The bottle stores opened this week. And the beaches did too. It was wonderful news to that bizarre cross section of Vitamin Dom and Vitamin Entitled protestors at Muizenberg last weekend, to say nothing of the flat earthers who claim this was the straw that tipped the president’s hand.

They could close again – if COVID-19 infection levels spiral out of control in new waves before we reach herd immunity. The rationale for closing beaches and banning booze sales was to prevent a breakdown in social distancing. There’s a compelling argument for both over the festive season: If you’re a lifeguard on the beach, it’s a nightmare dealing with drunk drowning people. If you’re a paramedic or an emergency room nurse of doctor it’s a charnel house caging angry and wounded pisscats.

But afterwards? It becomes more and more difficult to believe that there was anything more than caprice to keep these prohibitions in place, especially when other potential mass-spreader events are taking place all the time whether in public transport or in shopping centres as people get on with their lives; yet are being managed.

Police Minister Bheki Cele was one of the worst culprits. The man who has been indefatigable in his policing of the lockdown shared his views on the demon drink with the Sunday Times last weekend: “I saw my friend shoot his wife because he was drunk. I have seen alcohol strip people of their dignity. I don’t have much that is good to say about alcohol.”

The only good thing about his statement is the reaction is sparked on social media. As @Lizo_Thwala tweeted: “Bheki Cele’s drunk friend short his wife and this man, an entire Minister of Police saw alcohol as the issue and not GBV? We’re in hell”.

Banning alcohol because it enables anti-social activity is over-reach, something Cele has done his damndest to perfect for the last 10 months. It’s a cop out for the real issues; like arresting people who are involved in real crime, any crime. 

Banning booze also destroys an industry that actually provides jobs, creates local investment and earns foreign exchange. The fact that we can’t drink responsibly is not the fault of the liquor makers any more than the fact we drive like arseholes the fault of the car makers. We wouldn’t ban cars any more than we would ban government tenders in their entirety if we wanted to stamp out corruption.

The system can’t stop the carnage on the road, nor can the system stop the binge drinking – because there are no visible and lasting consequences. The cops didn’t stamp out the illegal drinking during the most recent prohibition, they just made sure the legal operators couldn’t make a living. Just like the playbook for the tobacco industry.

We’re going to have to endure more levels of lockdown before this virus is beaten. Some of the previous lockdown regulations were illogical and illegal. Let’s learn from our mistakes. It’s disgraceful trying to squash a mosquito with a hammer when women are getting bludgeoned behind closed doors.

It’s time we got our priorities right.

Originally published on Saturday Star on 6 February 2021.