Published On: February 11, 20221382 words7 min read

In this blog, I am looking briefly at South Africa and the drinking that we do here. I am very interested in the constantly changing face of our drinkers. I know that many South Africans drink, of all races, cultures, and social status quos. Both rich and poor drink to enjoy and to escape. And they all  live in all provinces of our country.

I invite you to read the blog and then please comment on your understanding or knowledge of our drinking: what culture are you? Do you, or did you, like drinking and what is, or was, your drink of choice? I am a white South African who grew up during Apartheid, so my view of life is completely different from a black South African who grew up in the same era.

I would love to hear your stories!

South Africans Drink a Lot

In fact, we drink so much that we are winning all the drinking prizes globally. We scored 5th highest in the world for our alcohol consumption rate in 2016, after Namibia, Eswatini, Cook Islands and Tunisia. This, despite two-thirds of our people not drinking at all!

As if that is not enough, South Africans are known as heavy or binge drinkers. Our drinkers drink a lot at one sitting – so even if two-thirds of our population does not drink the other third drinks a lot per day. Apparently, in 2016, South Africa was a beer-drinking nation, followed by wine and spirits.

These stats cut across all social classes and all race groups. I know that in South Africa no one likes to talk about race, but it is fascinating to notice that as people earn more money and gain more status, so too do their drinking habits change.

Wine Beat Coffee in 2019

Then, in 2019, South Africans were more into wine than coffee. But the beer was always the winner. Spirit coolers were loved by the young and trendy while whiskey followed the wine in popularity. South Africans preferred red wine compared to white wine in 2019.

It is now 2022, and we can look at post-pandemic drinking: there is talk now of a swing towards more quality and fewer calories in the drinking world of South Africa. According to those in the know, drinkers are leaning towards spirits, especially traditionally brewed whiskeys, and gins. Tequila is in!

Apparently, South Africans will spend more on alcohol this year due to the restrictions imposed during our lockdowns. The new group of calorie-conscious drinkers want to find the balance between drinking and watching their health in terms of weight, appearance and overall health and well-being.

These are probably what we would call the sober curious crowd. They do not want to get drunk and are attracted to the new herbal options on the market these days – botanicals that have so-called therapeutic qualities. These stats apply to South Africans who can afford alcohol!

But where is all this drinking news taking us? Aha! South Africans drink a lot! Too much it seems. The worst effect of our alcohol consumption is the violence it causes. It also causes a huge drain on medical resources as drinkers suffer violent deaths in car crashes, fights, and other accidents. They also develop numerous health problems, often leading to terminal illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, liver failure and diabetes, not to mention Alzheimer’s and dementia.

But you know all this. Research that came out last year highlights the fact that richer South Africans drink more constantly than poorer South Africans and the poor tend to binge drink more. The paper reveals that more male, African men tend to binge drink and the rise in drinking generally in South Africa is not surprising.

 “Research suggests that one of the factors responsible for increases in alcohol consumption in Africa is the aggressive marketing strategies adopted by the alcohol industry …. For instance, alcohol industries create new products such as the ready to drink beverages (RTDs) to attract new consumers (especially young people and women). Among other things, they are promoting drinking as a tradition and part of the culture, sponsoring sports events and celebrities to create the image that drinking alcohol is “cool” and suggesting alcohol is “good for health”….

Why do South Africans Binge Drink?

Research shows that we have a long history of social abuse and inequalities in our country. We are now dealing with the legacy of Apartheid, general suppression of people, the “dop” system in the wine-growing areas, the social issue of broken families because men went to work in mines, on farms and away from their loved ones thanks to the migrant labour system. Alcohol drinking became a covert behaviour when the sale of commercial alcohol was banned to Black South Africans for 60 years!

“But there are also many contemporary reasons for excessive drinking. Poverty, depression and hopelessness coupled with a lack of social, and recreational opportunities in many communities (apart from shebeens and taverns), drive a culture of drinking. The availability of alcohol in inner-city areas which allow trading in liquor till 4 am also creates an environment of “alcohol on tap”. “

Another factor for all the drinking South Africans do is the bigger picture: people are getting away with the illegal sale of alcohol and this is not being regulated. People drink and drive all the time and are not being punished for this. Youngsters drink and it is not regulated.

On the other side of the coin, alcohol is associated with success, with glamour, with fitting in and with being cool. A lot of the onus lies on the advertising and communications industries working in cahoots with the alcohol industry to score points and corrupt our people.

Alcohol is cheap, it is deliberately attractive to our youth and a lot of alcohol is sold in large quantities such as the 5-litre wine box and 750 ml beer bottles. When someone develops a problem with drinking, there is very little access to a clinic or a counsellor or help because these centres are mainly city-based, not rural.

Who Drinks Where and What?

Many up-and-coming South Africans meet in bars and pubs after work and drink together. The stigma of NOT drinking is huge in these areas. And binge drinking is the thing.

On the other hand, the crowd who chooses the herbal botanicals and alcohol-free gins are also trendy and less judgmental of the non-drinkers. They don’t want to get drunk and disorderly but want to be out there, having a drink and enjoying their relaxation.

I am very interested to know more about the cultures that drink a lot in South Africa and who are reaching out for help? Is it mainly white people, black and brown people or a whole blend of us all? I ask this openly and not critically. Think about your own drinking: no matter your race, your history, your class. When did YOU start drinking and WHY did you start drinking? Is it a recent thing with you or did your parents drink so alcohol was normalised? Let’s hear from you! If you live in another country, please still share your story, I am truly interested.

How do you feel about the way that alcohol is advertised? The billboards constantly force us to notice successful beautiful people sipping a choice of wine or gin. The ads on television promote FOMO (the fear of missing out) and entice young people to just try one.

Alcohol is promoted as a lifestyle choice and is associated with success, glamour and social acceptance.

In Conclusion

Alcohol is part and parcel of being a South African. This report states that “Ever since wine was first produced in the Cape Colony in the 17th century, alcohol has played an important role in South Africa’s history, culture, politics and economy. South Africa has a large and powerful alcohol industry with global reach. The industry employs large numbers of people in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy.”

I look forward to hearing from you if you are a South African who drinks or who drank. And if you are NOT South African, send in your share anyway. Let’s share our stories and find out who drinks and why.

Meanwhile take a listen to this podcast and read this blog.

 

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