In the past few weeks there have been several conversations and arguments in relation to underage drinking and how this scourge affects the broader South African society, and what impact it would have should it not be addressed.
SA’s Liquor Act, which has been in force for several years, states that the legal alcohol drinking age is from 18. The sad reality is that it’s in force, but not enforced. In early 2018, the Liquor Amendment Bill was widely discussed as it intended to alter the legal drinking age from 18 to 21. Increasing the legal drinking age is not going to resolve anything if the relationship of adults with alcohol is not addressed.
The measures of the Liquor Act are sufficient, they have been there for some time and amendments made to cover society’s shortfalls are not likely to yield the desired results. We should repeatedly ask the question of why we have underage drinking when we have legislation prohibiting it? What are the root causes and how do we deal with those?
We have a problem of irresponsible drinking. Our society is failing to acknowledge and adequately deal with how it relates to alcohol consumption. Worrying pictures across rural and urban environments are there for all to see, with some adults seeing nothing wrong with scenarios such as a parent sending a child to buy a pint of beer; a parent asking a child to fetch a beer for him/her from the fridge; an adult publicly drinking in the street; adults happily consuming alcohol excessively at family functions while there is little guidance on the children in attendance and how they behave; adults sharing drinking spots with minors and owners of drinking spots being more concerned with pushing sales than adhering to the law and looking the other way at who is actually buying and consuming the products they are selling.
There are worrying problems we saw during the various Covid-19 lockdowns — where alcohol was not sold, but there were many that could not live without the tipple, even going to great lengths to illegally buy, at ridiculous prices. Who can forget the video of an adult at a club dancing with a bottle of beer on his head? During this time also, we heard of reports of parents sending their children to purchase alcohol as they were less suspicious when spotted by the police. An appalling behaviour that speaks of parental and adult shortcomings.