More suitable methods than banning alcohol advertising

THE dangers of alcohol abuse are known, or should be known to most South Africans.

But banning alcohol advertisements amounts to a knee-jerk reaction to a complex social problem requiring level-headedness.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, though, is determined to use his sledgehammer to achieve his objective of banning alcohol advertisements because, in his view, excessive drinking, which he believes is the by-product of advertising, contributes to violence and other ills.

The truth is that we are a secular state. Our personal or religious beliefs should not have the slightest influence on the way we shape the fortunes of this country.

In other words, if I am religious or a traditionalist, and believe alcohol is bad, I should not allow government policy to be influenced by my personal beliefs.

Equally, if I am a concerned NGO, I should be able to say binge-drinking is bad without propagating the demise of other industries.

Instead of engaging in the tirade to flush out advertising agencies engaged in alcohol advertisements, the minister could play a collaborative role by suggesting an educational dimension be added to their advertisement campaigns, showing the negative aspects of alcoholism and the effects it has on society.

Those schooled in brand marketing are aware it is aimed at increasing awareness of a brand.

In the 1940s and 1950s and maybe even later, the then apartheid government banned Africans from drinking "white man's" liquor.

This gave rise to the mushrooming of sorghum beerhalls in most African townships from which the African men slaked their thirsts, and literally buried their sorrows in the drink.

The African intellectuals - teachers, lawyers, clerks, and politicians - enjoyed the luxury of "white man's liquor" in the newly-created sub-culture of shebeens. This, thanks to the system known as "bootlegging", which gave rise to the creation of shebeens.

And so the African under-class, barred by the racist regime from meaningful participation in the economic development of the country, was treated with disdain by the apartheid nanny state, barred from freely making free choices as to whether they would want to drink or not.

They were, through legislation, told "white liquor" was not good for them, and that sorghum beer was.

What was the outcome of this prohibition?

The prohibition of the "white man's" liquor meant Africans relentlessly went about their binge-drinking in the most self-destructive manner, almost as if to cock a snook at those who undermined their thinking patterns. The ban, rather than curbing their drinking habits, achieved the opposite effect.

The Africans sought and found ways to beat and abuse the system, drinking themselves in the process to early graves.

The point about this ban was that grown-ups were not treated as grown-ups; they were treated as automatons by the apartheid nanny state.

They were treated as if they did not have enough capacity to think for themselves, and only the government knew best what was good for them.

When you treat people as unthinking people, the outcomes are often disastrous.

Banning alcohol advertisements with the hope the ban will reduce drinking patterns is no different from the way the nanny apartheid system treated African people.

This amounts to undermining the thinking capacity of people; failing to treat them as grown-ups capable of making informed decisions and distinguishing between right and wrong.

Instead, by making available teaching resources to communities about the pros and cons of alcohol, the minister will be empowering people to make informed choices.

And this is what government, in partnership with advertising agencies, should be doing in a collective effort to curb binge-drinking in our society.

  • Mdhlela is an Anglican priest and freelance writer

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