Concern over spike in student binge-drinking
Students using NSFAS money for binges
It was a Friday at about 11pm when a nightshift supervisor of a student accommodation outlet saw a young woman– a Nelson Mandela University student – passed out on the side of Gomery Avenue in Summerstrand.
As he tried to wake her up, she battled to articulate where she lived and she struggled to recollect her own name.
It later emerged that the student lived at Omega Lodge – an off-campus student accommodation facility – and that she had passed out on her way home after a night of heavy drinking with her peers.
Hers is only one of many such incidents that unfold when students binge-drink off campus.
What the government has termed “alcohol abuse” among students in the Eastern Cape has spiralled out of control, prompting the launch of an anti-alcohol abuse campaign by the provincial government.
Finance MEC Oscar Mabuyane’s department has partnered with the Eastern Cape liquor board to launch the campaign at universities in the province.
At the time, Mabuyane said the campaign had been further necessitated by the death of a Walter Sisulu University student in Mthatha.
In December, a student who spoke to Weekend Post said he drank so much that he crashed a car belonging to a friend.
This was his second accident due to drinking.
A 22-year-old law student at NMU said his drinking episodes usually end up in a complete black-out, with him at home in his bed having no recollection of the events of the night before.
Weekend Post spoke to 21 students this week, most of whom were leaving a liquor outlet in Summerstrand.
All spoke on condition of anonymity, saying their parents did not know they drank.
While some said they used their pocket money, others confessed to using their National Student Financial Aid Scheme meal and transport allowances to fund their drinking.
One student said he had spent about R900 on alcohol on Thursday alone.
The student explained that he exchanged his meal allowance for cash by offering to pay for the groceries of shoppers at supermarkets with his NSFAS card in exchange for the cash.
Others use their cash voucher from NSFAS meant for transport costs – because the university provides free shuttles, they use the money for entertainment.
Asked why they were drinking excessively, the majority of the students said it was to unwind after a tough week of studying and assignments and that they used alcohol to socialise.
Only three of the students said they had personal problems and that they drank as a means to escape.
A senior student said he drank so he could “feel like a beast”.
“I want to lose myself for a bit and have fun.
“Not a fighting beast, but just a beast of life,” he said.
He said he made a lot of friends when he was intoxicated and he got irritable when he went out and did not drink.
The student said how much he consumed always depended on the vibe and they could move from drinking one bottle of vodka to drinking three.
Another student said the last time she got “sloppy drunk” was in her first year, and that drinking with friends and knowing her limit helped.
“We are a group of five friends who stay together, we study different courses but we’re always together.
“I can say we probably drink three weekends in a month – it varies. We always buy groceries and we all pitch in when buying alcohol.”
Excessive drinking by students has sparked a debate among landlords of student accommodation outlets around the need for a safer environment where students can drink within the university precinct.
Since May 2018, NMU has had a fully functioning on-campus “Green Route”, which covers 2km from the main building on south campus through some residences.
This is regarded as a safe zone for students as there are regular patrols along the route.
The off-campus Green Route has, however, yet to take off.
The idea is to have a dedicated safe route actively patrolled and monitored through a central Observation, Monitoring and Analysis Reporting Room, NMU spokesperson Zandile Mbabela said.
Mbabela said on Friday, however, that there was no empirical evidence of excessive alcohol use or abuse among students.
“The seemingly irresponsible use of alcohol is a concern.
“The university is monitoring this phenomenon with a view to enhancing and strengthening existing programmes aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of irresponsible and excessive alcohol use.”
Mbabela said that any education around the safe use of alcohol was covered during orientation.
“The irresponsible use of alcohol is a concern and more programmes aimed at raising awareness of the dangers of this phenomenon are in the pipeline,” she said.
Mbabela said patrols beyond the campus perimeters, particularly in identified hotspot areas, were undertaken with the help of private security companies working in collaboration with the university and other role-players, including the SAPS.