By John Fraser
Did you hear the one about the three ANC Ministers who walked into a bar?
One tried to close it down, another to arrest all the drinkers in possession of car keys, while the third got merrily pissed.
If the Covid-19 crisis has told us anything about our government, it is that it is Hydra-like, with its many heads often in disagreement with one another.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who seems more sensible than some in his Cabinet, is nominally in charge, but one does not get the feeling that he is in control.
Although she denies it, Nanny Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who delights in articulating the government’s response to the pandemic, seems to be in the driving seat. She is the face of the Soviet-sounding Command Council, and seemingly delights in droning on at media briefings – once in english and then again in zulu.
I suppose one should not draw attention to this unnecessary, time-wasting duplication, for fear that she will then insist on using all 11 official languages – turning each brief and businesslike media event into an even longer linguistic marathon.
These are tough times for SA drinkers, and every fresh rumour is also a knee in the groin to our wine farms and restaurants
This week we have seen panic-buying in the bottle stores and rumours of a reimposition of pandemic prohibition.
The rumours were denied by a government whose credibility is in freefall, but we have since seen further reports that the temperance twats are indeed at it again, pushing hard for a total turnoff of the tipple taps.
As one distinguished commentator questioned: “How can they be both so puritanical and also such thieves?” Corruption hasn’t been controlled under the lockdown, so why is there so much focus on booze-bashing?
One voice of reason in the darkness is my DA chum Dean Macpherson, who warned that the Democratic Alliance “has been reliably informed” that there is a strong lobby within the ANC by certain Ministers to reintroduce another ban on alcohol as soon as possible.
“This group of Ministers includes Police Minister Bheki Cele, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and Cooperative Governance Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma,” he said.
Yet while the flames of fear and concern are being fanned among the drinkers of SA, the vast majority of whom are not the wife-beaters and drunk-drivers the ANC appears to be concerned about (as are we all), another arm of government has been actively boosting our booze industry – as long as the foul stuff is only exported to gullible foreigners.
The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition, the DTIC, whose duties include export promotion, has today been hosting a “Virtual Wine mission to South Korea”.
Does this mean that the SA government backs the beating of South Korean wives and supports drunken South Korean drivers, or is it that they think that South Koreans are much more responsible and well-behaved than their own citizens?
They can be trusted with booze. We can’t.
And if the alcohol problem is so, so serious, why did they wait until the pandemic to tackle it?
There is some credibility to the excuse that booze and tobacco use will lead to more pressure on the pandemic-pounded health services, but does this justify the response? Only if there is some hidden, temperance-tainted agenda.
With power should come restraint and responsibility, unless we are to be government by a bunch of bullies.
It is all a mess. Mixed signals on this issue of alcohol have harmed more than just our drinkers (and our smokers are in a similar bind).
By making the clampdown on booze and tobacco so central to their Covid-19 fightback messaging, they have distorted the picture, moving the focus from the REAL challenge, of stopping the transmission of the disease.
This is why a visit to most SA stores or supermarkets is a scary, dangerous experience. The message on social distancing is not getting through.
Why? Because the main evangelists in our government have hijacked the anti-pandemic campaign to pursue their own ends.
And far too many South Africans are paying for this puritanical distraction. With their lives.
Like this article? Subscribe to ZA Confidential to receive our newsletters. Twitter: @zaconfidential