Picture by Gawker
The ANC and the Booze industry look down on Mandela’s Rainbow baby beaten, battling to breathe. They arrange themselves for a photo-shoot, then tell press, “aagh-shame, BUT hang on, is she as bad as the kids over the road?”
South Africa has monster size alcohol problems. It is time to get real but grown men and women piddle on about a good age for drinking – a good age! And argue “yes it is” - “no it isn’t” over advertising encouraging, as the trade puts it, “early adoption”[i] by adolescents for booze.
South Africa has a ‘drink-the problem-away’, ‘only-drink-makes-it-fun’ culture. Neither works for more than a few hours yet getting stoned is practiced by the Upper Classes and No Class alike: Guilt, pain, frustration, loneliness, failure … Drink them all away. Or enjoy the cricket or the birthday party by blowing your mind for a day, a weekend with the world’s deadliest drug. South African’s are themselves the liquor industry’s best advertisement. Imagine millions of white, black, coloured youths holding hands running through the streets shouting “we’re doomed, life’s over, they’ve changed the drinking age” – forget it. They’ll carry on with Mums and Daddies, elder brothers and sisters, morosely discussing how full of sh*te the other South Africans are … If booze accounts for 40% of violent crime[ii] how much more political anger and racial discord does it generate at the very moment the battle for economic equality should be the goal? Bring on the Hate Speech Act – CHEERS!
Why is it happening, why it continues is awfully easy to answer – a human tragedy is reduced once again to money-talk. Every born-into-Capitalism economist, South African politician and business-person will explain alcohol is a dream model, vital to GDP: Big money in making it, selling and fixing the results – diseases (body and mind), accidents (work-home and on the road), and oh god did I promiscuous activities[iii] - yields enormous profits.
What about vegetable soup instead? No. Around 20 million South Africans haven’t regular balanced meals but soup is a useless gross domestic product (GDP) tool. Where are the mega profits in healthy people, people wanting to be fit or people thinking … straight?
The government talks of actual[iv] losses and the liquor industry argues potential turnover lost[v] as if GDP growth determines the happiness of the people, the health of the country. There can be no future happiness and health either: South African foetal alcohol syndrome incidence is shocking[vi].
Many alcohol/related deaths ago, in October 2016, the then Trade and Industry Minister Davies said alcohol had a “harmful effect (on) individuals and communities as a whole”[vii]. Understatement: emotional and behavioural damage never stops, the cost incalculable.
Missing is that particular spirit called Community (or Ubuntu). It lies beyond money. Its only objective is caring for human life AND the environment as one interdependent entity: That’s good government. Big Business is about self, about maximising profit no matter the cost to humanity and the environment - bugger the people and make the empty plot nearby a dumping ground. It too has a single goal: meeting shareholder expectations after, of course, executive remuneration.
Using tax monies the South African government is expected to react, to clean up after Big Business – from polluted rivers to drunken brawl broken heads.
The Distell Group’s shareholders’ dividend improved from 123c per share in 2005 to 346 in 2015[viii]. The share tripled from 2008 to 2017 (Google Finance). The CEO’s remuneration is over R10 million a year[ix]. The Director General of Health’s salary, the ministry very involved in the darker side of alcohol’s life-cycle, a vastly bigger job than making gin, is about R2 million[x].
Tis true South Africa’s GDP has risen from US$3445 in 1994 to US$5284 in 2016 but there hasn’t been overall improvement in health or well-being.
To understand South Africa’s shocking white collar crime, the violence, small business failure rate, un- and underemployment, the flight of skills and Rand or the real poverty rate, consider the alcohol road record; RSA “… had the highest number of drunk driving incidents at 58%” in the world … (and the GDP growth champion) China the least on 4%”[xi].
Alcohol use produces outcomes, and the society-negative consequences of those outcomes need to be realised. At present only the profits of private companies that arise out of alcohol chaos are acknowledged.
The government needs to step around the current petty debate, stop being nanny to citizens and start behaving like the business it should itself be.
Educate – critical to change and growth - and accept (it is unpoliceable) drinking at an age South Africans are ok with. Let the alcohol-makers advertise to its heart’s content – the bullseye produced proves they’re making big bucks and South Africans aren’t stupid. But at the same time agree profits realised by these drug suppliers are from now on stated after all costs are recognised.
Harmed by booze must become a cost. Fair play is to ensure the free flow of alcohol has consequences. Outcomes are easily anticipated.
Those harmed, government and citizen, must be able to sue and they must start now. That includes suing parents for being irresponsible/negligent but it is also time to reel in the rope the liquor industry has allowed itself.
Until recently “… the idea that a company could be a criminal was alien to American law. The prevailing assumption was … that corporations had neither bodies to be punished nor souls to be condemned, and thus were incapable of being “guilty”[xii]. Wonderfully things have changed.
The indignant “I/my business has rights” needs to be tempered with an equal dose of “but you (and company) have duties and responsibilities too”. During Obama’s term fines on companies operating in the US amounted to (on annual average) US$17 billion (R200 billion) a year and that money went into public coffers[xiii].
As part of their business risk banks accept fines for money laundering[xiv] etcetera. Medicine manufacturers, doctors and illegal crack dealers are held responsible for the outcomes of their service and resultant customer behaviour. The alcohol industry must join the club. The right to sell alcohol must be matched with the duty to pick up costs. If you want a life in RSA agree to get tough on alcohol consequences (and please hit “Like” on my FB page).
The potential loss of jobs will be countered by real economic stimulation … exactly what the legal-drug industry is crowing the country needs. The change will be in the money flow. From court case or settlement into the public pocket, monies recovered will be spent … in South Africa. After all, communities are the real shareholders of South Africa. Booze company execs earning exorbitant salaries without end user responsibility and guilt free dividends must end.
A simple single example … if a motor accident is found to have been caused to any degree by alcohol the state must be able to recover proportionately the last item in cost from the fireman’s overtime to the replacement of any concrete divot and all hospital costs from the liquor provider. And insurers should be considered involved: Forget exclusions. If a car (or health) policy is sold to a drinker and something goes wrong they join in the civil and criminal dock along with the alcohol industry. Knowing your customer is a business technique to reduce the risk of business – it’s time to apply it.
As much as the criminal defence of being “under the influence” must be tightened[xv], the family of a drunk supplied must be enabled to sue alcohol companies for supplying. And for continuing to supply there must be a criminal charge. The industry knows the statistics. They must bear the costs of all who turn out to be problematic; the alcoholic and heavy (for whatever reason) drinker.
As much as drunks and the criminal-when-under-influence must be punished they shouldn’t be taking up prison space or budget. Alcohol sellers can fund government-community initiatives for abusing users to give something back as alternate sentences[xvi].
In South Africa “about 6•3% of disability-adjusted life-years lost are attributable to alcohol, and about 130 deaths are from alcohol-related causes every day”[xvii]. Family trauma and nation destruction – incalculable - is over and above those horror figures.
Not feeling is no replacement for reality. Today’s drink doesn’t dissolve tomorrow’s problems but, say many, it is when a country takes its first step out of the abyss it discovers the treasures of life. The sun shines ever brighter and the shadows stretch longer … but then the darkness is behind.[xviii]
 A more involved story that needs written up by an analyst is the relationships developing between life-dissolving and life giving business units in South Africa. It seems to me Remgro for example owns Distel and Mediclinic International (see http://www.4-traders.com/REMGRO-LIMITED-1413405/company/ & http://www.4-traders.com/DISTELL-GROUP-LIMITED-1413363/company/) At monopoly level that makes good strategic business sense. That 4-traders notes the Public Investment Corp. Ltd owns 28% of Distell is sad. 51% would make sense.
[i] “Branded. The buying and selling of teenagers” by Alissa Quart
[iv] Example “… costs associated with harmful alcohol use in South Africa have been estimated at between R245 933 – 280 687 billion” … See https://www.phasa.org.za/ban-alcohol-advertising-south-africa.
[v] … “silencing alcohol advertising will cost the out-of-home, radio, television and print media more than R1.9 billion a year.” … See https://businesstech.co.za/news/lifestyle/228829
[ix] https://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/people/person.asp?personId=249326908&privcapId=875709 Reuters shows 22 senior people and Google Finance reports a net profit margin of over 9% AFTER paying that bunch … to make legal drugs!
[xi] See https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Local/Greytown-Gazette/sa-worst-in-the-world-for-drunk-driving-20170704
[xv] Surely if a person deliberately has a drink or three intentional disregard thereafter can be assumed?
[xvi] Giving back: thinking about who we don’t ever want to be again. Currently prisons’ prisoners’ classes make professional criminals out of drunks.
[xvii] www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(14)60954-5/abstract … by C Parry 2014
[xviii] Acknowledgements to Larry Dredla, Charlotte Whitton and a.n.o. forgotten – sorry.