South Africans are known for being some of the best dancers in the world. This can be seen by how a lot of people from different parts of the world have participated in most of our forever-trending TikTok dance challenges. It is almost as if South Africans are born with a special ability to follow the flow and rhythm of music, no matter how complex it may be. Due to this great talent that we have as South Africans, the vibe at our “groove spots” is probably also one of the best you can find anywhere. (Groove is a term given to any place where people go to dance and have drinks at.) There have even been suggestions online that South African Groove be turned into a tourist attraction. Some have even gone as far as suggesting that Robben Island be turned into a “groove island”, almost like a second Ibiza. This may be seen as harmless fun but how much fun is actually harmless?
In a normal family setup, there is always that one uncle or aunt who drinks alcohol. Sometimes it is even our own parents. In some families, almost everyone, including the young ones, drink alcohol. December was known amongst us black people as a period where we relax and do whatever we want – including drinking alcohol whenever we want to. It is at this time that the elders would turn a blind eye to underage drinking and roaming the streets in the late hours of the night. One may argue that there is no harm in children drinking under the supervision of their elders, but I beg to differ. I feel that allowing children to start drinking at a young age influences them into believing that you cannot have fun without drinking alcohol. This could lead to many problems, including developing a level of dependence on alcohol.
Unfortunately, some children have gotten so used to drinking alcohol and going out at night during December that they no longer do it in December only. It has now become a common thing to see underage children frequenting taverns and nightspots. They do this even on school nights. It has become common to see young children posing with alcohol and taking pictures. It has become so common that they are not even afraid to post these pictures online.
There was an incident in July where hundreds of very underage children – some as young as thirteen – attended an event at a tavern known as Enyobeni in Eastern Cape. No one knows exactly what happened, but whatever it was resulted in twenty-one children losing their lives. Such behaviour has been normalised so much that in an interview the grandparent of one of the deceased children said that they only began to worry when their fourteen-year-old child did not knock at their window as she normally does when she come back from a night out. In 2020, some university students were invited to an event in Free State. I guess they believed they would not be able to have fun without alcohol so they decided to make their own type of alcohol since at that time the sale of alcohol was prohibited. It is said that they mixed hand sanitiser, methylated spirits and other unknown substances to create an intoxicating beverage. Some lost their lives, while some were hospitalised.
Some people use alcohol as a coping mechanism, but they would not have known that it may help them cope with their problems if they had not tried it. So, are we not feeding into this alcohol dependence problem when we allow our children to start drinking alcohol even when they are underage. If we look back at our uncles and aunts who are now heavy drinkers, we can see that they too started drinking “just for fun” until they started depending on it to cope.
Unfortunately, when you have developed an alcohol addiction, you will drink alcohol even if you cannot afford to. As a person who lives in a township, I have witnessed many incidents where a man will demand money from his wife to go hang out at the local tavern although he knows there is no food in the house or that there are important things that need to be covered first. One may argue that even poor people are entitled to have fun and I agree. It does not mean that you cannot enjoy certain things just because you are less fortunate, but you should not neglect your responsibilities while doing so. Even the most fortunate know that you need to first take care of your needs before you can satisfy your wants. It is even more heart breaking when a mother spends their child’s SASSA grant on things like alcohol instead of taking care of their children’s needs. A 2018 WHO global report indicated that South Africa is ranked as the 6th-drunkest country in the world.
I must admit, the new wave of music in South Africa – commonly known as Amapiano – is really hard to ignore. Whenever you hear an Amapiano song there is always something in you that will tell you to just get up and dance. Because we are generally a groovy nation, whichever place we are at turns into a groove spot. On Twitter this weekend there was a heated discourse on how even “chilled places” are being turned into groove spots. Twitter user @cnehshuga wrote: “South Africans won’t rest until every establishment turns into a groove spot.” This came after people were seen “turning up” (which means drinking and dancing) at establishments like the Fourways Farmer’s Market and Rocco Mama which were at first family-friendly places. Some have argued that people should stop gatekeeping and wanting to control what people do. They also argued that there is no sin in just getting up and dancing, even if it is in random and odd places. I disagree. We need to be careful what we expose our children to. It may seem harmless to just get up and dance randomly, but it is important to respect other people’s spaces and preferences. The fact that a person went to a restaurant is an indication that they just wanted to sit down and relax. If they wanted to watch people dance they would have gone to a groove spot.
As South Africans, we enjoy “grooving” so much that we have created events for everyday of the week. We have Mogodu Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Wine Wednesdays, Phuza Thursdays and Freaky Fridays. It may seem harmless, but I think these events are just excuses to justify and downplay our excessive drinking. I believe South Africa does have a drinking problem and it would be best to find ways to sort it out. It might be too late to save ourselves, but it is not too late to save our future generations.