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Is alcoholism a problem of the poor?

The government’s fierce war against alcohol has taken a different dimension. When they started, the government said alcohol drinking was a vice that perpetuates social moral turpitude.

That was then, but now they have raised the pitch, zoning in on the face of poverty, a feature that continues to define a significant section of our society. Picture this…a man wearing an unzipped jacket (with no shirt), potbelly overflowing above the beltline. The hands are full, as he carries in each hand, a beer bottle. With his right hand holding the bottle close, mouth hungrily attached to the lips of the bottle he surely looks like a consummate tippler.

He depicts a low class worker trying to drain his troubles in the alcoholic beverage. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, this poster, which is one of the many that is being circulated by the trade and industry ministry, goes beyond alcohol abuse. It reveals an interesting message; that alcoholism is a problem of the poor. It gives alcoholism a face, the face of a poor low working class, the proletariat.

This poster, which appeared on the 19th of January this year in the government-owned Daily News, is one of the many anti-alcohol campaign adverts circulating the whole country. “Go nwa bojalwa mo go feteletseng go senya boleng jwa gago. Fokotsa go nwa thata, o ipakanyeketse bokamoso. (Drinking too much alcohol destroys you. Reduce drinking too much and be ready for the future).”

The words denote a well-intended message that is meant to advise people against abusing alcohol. Reports and statistics have been brought forward in various forums especially by the anti-alcohol campaigners showing that a lot of people in Botswana abuse alcohol. But is the government accurate in pointing out the poor as the face of alcoholism? Is it not demonising the poor, to call them alcoholics just because they are under-privileged?

It is perhaps fitting at this juncture to understand the kind of people who indulge in alcohol. This would help in understanding whether class has anything to do with people drinking alcohol. In an illuminating observation, artist John Berger says of the poor, “The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other.

It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied…but written off as trash. The 20th Century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing”, he says.

But then as in every war, there are casualities. In the alcohol campaign, the poor are being used as a means to an end; the end here being a sober society. “It is true that a lot of us poor folks drink alcohol, but we are not the only ones. Even the rich do drink. It is just that we drink cheap stuff like Khadi, Chibuku and others. On the other hand, you will realise that they drink these expensive alcoholic drinks like wines,” says Samuel Moranodi, who works as a labourer for a construction company.

Moranodi does not see his drinking as dangerous to his health. He says that he drinks to socialise with his friends. He observes that politicians, especially those in power should ensure that there are enough jobs for everyone, “especially us who are working for peanuts in these foreign owned-construction companies. The problem with being poor and illiterate is that you are not taken seriously. Where I work the work is too much yet the pay amounts to nothing.

That is why we fail to send our kids to school and provide proper housing for them. I am not poor because I drink Chibuku, it’s because of my low pay. In fact you should note that the only time I drink my favourite St. Louis beer is during month-end. So don’t tell me I am poor because I drink a lot of beer,” he reveals.

His colleague, who only gave his name as Kgolagano has said that as far as he is concerned alcohol abuse is a problem for everyone, not just people of little means.

“People have different reasons for drinking alcohol. Mostly it starts out as fun and then it develops into a habit.

We always see people from rich suburbs, young and old drinking beer. Perhaps the difference is that we the poor like to gather in groups at drinking spots, while the rich guys drink their expensive liquors inside their high walled homes,” he observed.

In their essay on ‘Temperance, Prohibition, Alcohol Control’, Harry Levine and Craig Reinarman point out that in the early 18th Century, an anti-alcohol movement was founded by physicians, ministers and large employers who were concerned about alcohol abuse by workers and servants. It developed into a mass movement of the middle class.

“The temperance campaign was devoted to convincing people that alcoholic drink in any form was evil, dangerous, and destructive. Throughout the nineteenth century, temperance supporters insisted that alcohol slowly but inevitably destroyed the moral character and the physical and mental health of all who drank it. Temperance supporters regarded alcohol the way people today view heroin: as an inherently addictive substance. Moderate consumption of alcohol, they maintained, naturally led to compulsive use to addiction.

From the beginning, temperance ideology contained a powerful strand of fantasy. It held that alcohol was the major cause of nearly all social problems: unemployment, poverty, business failure, slums, insanity, crime and violence (especially against women and children). For the very real social and economic problems of industrialising America, the temperance movement offered universal abstinence as the panacea,” they note.

Botswana government’s raging war against alcoholism, depicting alcoholism as a social problem of the poor, reminds one of words of wisdom by author Eli khamarov who observes; “Poverty is like punishment for a crime you didn’t commit,” he says.

source: Mmegi Online

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