South Africans have rather a close relationship with their alcohol! The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies the majority of drinkers in the country as binge (excessive) drinkers.
This means that roughly 59% of alcohol consumers drink more than 60g of pure alcohol on at least one occasion every month, or six alcoholic drinks. This is four times more than the daily-recommended dose for men.
When Covid-19 first hit our shores in 2020, an alcohol ban was imminent and many people ekasi started coming up with homemade concoctions. It was not long before I read about three young women who had died from consuming a concoction made up of a soft drink, methylated spirit (yew!), paraffin, yeast, disprin tablets and matchsticks.
I remember the first time I went out of the house after the hard lockdown. I saw a group of people roaming around carrying five litre bottles of what they called ‘petrol’. This ‘petrol’ convincingly looked red in colour but what was bizarre was – people were actually drinking it! Now, I know I had been indoors for quite a long time but had I missed that much? Were people now drinking – out of all liquids – petrol?
“No mfethu this is a new wine. Nobody knows what wine it is but it gives you the kick, and it’s way cheaper!” said one bhuti, pouring down a glass down his dry throat.
These times of desperation surely set a precedent. Whenever the president would announce a family meeting, the only item on the menu that South Africans were most looking forward to was changes to alcohol restrictions. In the first six months of lockdown, several liquor stores were broken into and (strange enough) not even was grocery store was burgled!
Then a new trend started filling the social media streets. “Eyona weekend enkulu yilena izayo” posts would read and this basically meant each and every weekend was the ‘big weekend’.
“We don’t know when the president is closing again and we are very behind so i-weekend mayifane nenye. Every weekend must be the same as the last one!” said the bhuti with his ‘petrol’ now approaching reserve tank.
Of course, I have to note that our drinking problems didn’t start with the lockdown. Professor Charles Parry of the South African Medical Research Council feels there is a complicated link between our drinking culture and our history. He has spent more than two decades examining the country’s tumultuous relationship with alcohol. “There was a period of time when alcohol was not available to black South Africans,” Prof Parry says about the days before white-minority rule ended in 1994.
A South African National HIV, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication (SABSSM) 2008 survey showed that alcohol use was reported by 41.5% of the men and 17.1% of women. Between 2005 and 2008, there was a rise in the prevalence of current drinking, binge drinking, and hazardous or harmful drinking in South Africa.
If you consider the number of people that we have lost their lives to drink and driving, the fatal quarrels that happen weekly in our taverns ekasi and the money wasted then you will agree when I say we have to rethink our alcohol consumption. Or as a starting point, we need to first and finally admit that there’s a problem and start having dialogues to bring about amicable solutions.
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Tell us: Do you agree that South Africans have an alcohol problem? Why or why not?