26 April 2020
- Straight & Two Beers
It is possible to keep drinks flowing without undermining virus fight
The involuntary rehabilitation of the drinking masses has thrown a spanner in the works for the government as it seeks to stop the consumption of alcohol during the lockdown.
Pineapple, ginger and sorghum beers have suddenly become popular thirst quenchers after liquor outlets were ordered to close.
While many imbibers rushed to stockpile booze ahead of the lockdown, their wells have since run dry, leaving a swathe of the Kalahari desert in their throats.
President Cyril Ramaphosa was emphatic when challenged by the Gauteng Liquor Forum to allow the sale of alcohol that booze was not an essential item.
However, this has not stopped people from brewing their own. Umqombothi and pineapple beer have proved popular even among people who would never be seen lifting a calabash in the pre-corona era. Though traditionally served at cultural ceremonies where ancestral spirits are evoked, the brew has become mainstream.
The problem with the prohibition of alcohol is that it drives the trade underground. The apartheid government tried and failed to prevent black people from drinking “European” beer – brandy and whisky. The late Hugh Masekela penned Khawuleza, made popular by Miriam Makeba, in honour of the township alarm system when the police pounced to raid shebeens for illicit hooch. The song simply means “Hurry Mama. Please, please don’t let them catch you!”
We have come full circle since those Sophiatown days. To curb the spread of the coronavirus, the government has banned the sale of alcohol.
The logic is that the virus thrives where people gather in numbers, such as drinking holes. Drinking at home remains legal, thus many people have turned to their gogos’ trusted recipes to brew their own beer.
South Africa is one of a handful of countries that do not allow the sale of alcohol during the lockdown, and cowboy Bheki Cele has credited the drought for the reduction in violent crimes since the ban.
However, several bottle stores have been broken into and looted while police officers themselves have fallen foul of the law after they were nabbed escorting tavern owners or found imbibing by their colleagues.
This is a fight the government will not win. The government is also losing billions of rand in “sin” taxes. Tobacco alone brings R1-billion a month into Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s kitty while alcohol manufacturers are among the heavyweights on the JSE.
Perhaps the time has arrived for a compromise. The lockdown was and remains a mechanism to fight the spread of the coronavirus, but a little flexibility wouldn’t hurt. Social distancing will be with us for the foreseeable future, so perhaps the authorities can allow people to buy take-aways to drink at home.
Mr President, we all know that people become ungovernable when they have been drinking, but I can assure you they are now ready to sanitise their dumpies after every sip.