Cut out the beef, let’s booze indoors

26 April 2020

Vusi Nzapheza

  • 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.

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