THE ABUSE OF DRUGS, ALCOHOL AND SUBSTANCES A COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY PHENOMENON:
NYIKO FLOYD SHIVAMBU
On the 11th of November 2009, the ANC YL convened a broad front of concerned formations in South Africa to develop a clear and concerted strategy to fight the abuse of alcohol, drugs and substances. We did so because the 23rd National Congress of the African National Congress Youth League mandated all structures of the organisation to, “establish programmatic relations with Non-governmental organizations, Community-Based organizations, Trade Unions and religious formations in the campaign against drugs, alcohol and substance abuse”. Congress specifically mandated ANC YL organisational structures to “advocate for the illegalisation of alcohol advertisements in all media channels; and further advocate for and ensure the adoption of a single national legislation on the regulation of alcohol trade, distribution, and consumption in communities”.
These resolutions were guided by an understanding in Congress that drugs, alcohol and substance abuse are in essence a counter-revolutionary feature, which if not curbed in society, could reverse the gains of our democratic dispensation and progress. It does not require rocket science to notice the extent at which the abuse of drugs, alcohol and substance negatively impacts on the struggle to politically and economically emancipate the black majority and Africans in particular in our construction of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and united South Africa. The abuse of these intoxicating substances and alcohol in particular does not only negatively impact the wellbeing of the individuals consuming them, but distorts society and leads to other grave social ills such as crime, rapid spread of HIV/AIDS, poor health, low success rates in education, sports, work, etc.
The society we are living in experiences serious social ills; these are mainly interlinked and attributable to irresponsible consumption of alcohol and abuse of drugs and substances. The 2007 ANC 52nd National Conference political report noted that “in the past five years the areas with the greatest number of violent crimes were identified as those that are poor and economically depressed. These areas, which account for more than 50% of violent crime in South Africa comprise only 169 police station-areas out of 1 136 police station-areas in the country. The socio-economic profile of these areas is similar. There are few recreational facilities. Unemployment is high. There are many dysfunctional families. There are many shebeens and other alcohol outlets and the levels of substance abuse are very high. Therefore, the objective of our government's Integrated Socio-Economic Development Programme is also aimed at combating crime”.
It appears from this observation that the involvement of communities and youth in criminal activities is largely a consequence of various other socio-economic realities, but also the usage of alcohol, drugs and substances. A recent study by the Medical Research Council pointed to various sad realities about alcohol abuse in South Africa. This includes the fact that “drinkers are 57 percent more likely to be HIV positive than non-drinkers”. Further than that the MRC has scientifically proven that “alcohol leads to violence and it makes one aggressive”. This is additional to the fact that many other sordid realities are alcohol related, including the facts that:
· Alcohol misuse is causally implicated in a range of chronic health problems (e.g. cirrhosis of the liver). However, many of the primary effects of alcohol misuse occur from episodes of acute alcohol intoxication.
· Acute alcohol intoxication is associated with increased mortality and morbidity arising from intentional and non-intentional injuries.
· Acute alcohol intoxication is also associated with unsafe sexual practices and increased risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
· Alcohol misuse, combined with poor nutritional status, increases susceptibility to opportunistic diseases by compromising the immune system.
· The misuse of alcohol during pregnancy has been linked to fetal alcohol syndrome in infants.
· Alcohol misuse also impacts on the criminal justice system, with evidence of associations between drinking at risky levels, committing crime, or being a victim of crime.
Economically, Red-Line Marking estimates that alcohol related cost to the South African economy is around R9 billion annually due to low productivity, conflicts, injuries, and damage to property including heavy machinery. The number of lives lost due to alcohol in South Africa is not insignificant, particularly when considering the reality that more 50% of car accidents are alcohol related and 60% of pedestrians treated at hospital trauma unit after collision are found with alcohol above the permissible limit. Various other counter progress realities in South Africa are indirectly and often directly linked to the abuse of alcohol.
This happens against the fact that alcohol regulation legislations and laws in the South Africa are rarely enforced, including on the limit number of years for people who are permitted to buy alcohol. South Africa’s largest brewery admits to the fact that more than 80% of Liquor Traders and Outlets in South Africa are unlicensed and little or nothing is done with enforcement of the existent Liquor trade regulation laws. South Africa’s democracy and rule of law will gradually loose legitimacy if the laws and legislations the country passes are violated without any repercussions. What is the use of law if it will not be enforced.
These realities and many others are at the centre of the ANC YL’s campaign against the abuse of drugs, alcohol and substances, with specific emphasis on alcohol abuse. Over the next months, the ANC YL will together with other social partners advocate for the reduction of alcohol available in our communities. The campaign will include but not limited to the following:
- Community awareness campaign on the dangers of alcohol abuse.
- Call for much stricter enforcement of alcohol regulations and laws.
- Call for the illegalisation of all alcohol advertisement in all media channels.
- Call for alternate activities and programmes that will preoccupy young people in communities, particularly sports, arts and recreational activities.
This multi-pronged approach to the campaign against the abuse of alcohol will be given the necessary attention without compromising any of the components over the other. This is vital because a narrower focus on the abuse of alcohol might miss the point and not resolve the challenges and problems associated with the abuse of alcohol. Of cardinal importance in the campaign is the fact that the ANC YL has already begun to mobilise various stakeholders, including Non-Governmental Organisations (Soul City), Community Based Organisations (Ulutsha Trust), Religious formations (South African Council of Churches, National Interfaith Religious Council, Al Burhaan) and Youth Political Organisations (COSAS, SASCO and Young Communist League). In a campaign of this magnitude, we need all social partners to join hands and fight against the abuse of alcohol in our communities.
The community awareness campaign the action group against alcohol abuse will engage in will include making communities aware of the social, biological and economic dangers of alcohol abuse. These should specifically be targeted on young people as they are easy preys of alcohol abuse. All structures of the ANC YL and organisations in the action group should ensure that as many young people as possible are aware of the dangers and detriments of alcohol abuse. Unfortunately the most common public spaces in South Africa’s townships and rural villages are alcohol outlets. Such should be openly confronted by communities and alternate means of public gathering be established to accommodate everyone.
As an immediate focus to stricter enforcement of alcohol regulations and laws, we call for police action on Liquor Traders who knowingly sell alcohol and all intoxicating substances to people under the age of 18. All illegal Liquor Traders should be stopped not only through police action, but by concerned communities. As mid and long-term interventions, the stricter regulation of alcohol trade and consumption should include regulation on the hours within which alcohol should be sold. Further than that, the number of years for people permissible to buy and drink alcohol should be increased to 21, and stricter sentences reserved for those who do not comply. The regulations should include illegalisation of Liquor outlets within 500 metres of learning and teaching premises such as Crèches and Schools. Alcohol legislation should in this instance be made a national competency, because Provinces and Municipalities have neglected this vital component of social transformation.
Advertisement of alcohol in South Africa is rife and somewhat led to the development of a social norm that celebrates alcohol usage. Almost all top South Africa’s sporting codes are used by the major brewers to promote alcohol. A significant number of advertisements outdoor, on television, radio, newspapers, and magazine are alcohol related. These advertisements do not even have warnings on the dangers of alcohol and screened during family viewing periods. Most of the advertisements associate alcohol brands with success and social progress. This can never be in a society where alcohol is responsible for most of our social ills. There should be a brave, but correct political decision to illegalize all alcohol advertisement and stricter penalties set for those who do underground illegal advertisements.
In instances where young people are addicted (hooked into) to alcohol, drugs and substances, government should build and increase the capacity of State rehabilitation centers around localities with the aim of renewing addicts back to normal society. The “Sin taxes” should be directed to the rehabilitation programmes. We should utilise various sectors and departments of the State and society, notably social development, education and health to train more youth as counselors to assist in counseling programmes of young people who irresponsibly consume alcohol and abuse drugs. This could lead to effective and sustainable mentorship programmes for those who might be identified as substance abusers, especially from dysfunctional families. At all levels, structures of the ANC YL should form a programme to dissuade abuse of drugs, alcohol and substance, while placing mechanisms and methods to rehabilitate those that have been addicted.
Overall, the campaign against the abuse of alcohol should be concurrent to the campaign for the development and support of sustainable recreational activities, which will occupy young people’s free time. The introduction of new sporting codes in particularly poor communities should be intensified, whilst emphasis placed on developing the sporting and creative potential of all young people. A variety of other programmes for young people to develop and explore their creative potential could be realised through formation of Youth, Poetry and Music Clubs, Reading/Study Groups, and various other programmes.
State departments, mainly on Sports, Arts and Culture, and sporting associations should be engaged to increase more resources on sports and creative industries to assist in keeping youth occupied with recreational and creative activities. This could include a concerted programme to support the development of Soccer, Netball, Rugby, Tennis, Cricket and broad recreational and creative activities. This could divert youth from other unhealthy activities such as drugs, alcohol, crime, etc.
The ANC YL has publicly vowed to stop at nothing in ensuring that the non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society under construction is not a society of drunkards, alcoholics and drug-addicts. We therefore call on all responsible citizens, structures, organisations, trade unions, non-governmental organisations, community based organisations, religions formations and political parties to join hands in the campaign against the abuse of alcohol, substances and drugs. South Africa’s progression into a better future requires that we work together in combating the abuse of alcohol, substances and drugs. Aluta!