Let me declare up front that I don’t believe much in banning anything. That goes for gay marriages, abortion, sex work and marijuana. I think that societies that have too many ill-advised rules are trying to govern people’s personal behaviour, in and out of our homes, slowly creeping into our bedrooms, and once you get started it’s hard to come back.
In the 1980’s in South Africa, a lot of things were banned. I remember in High School we had one frayed, photo-copied picture of Nelson Mandela that we passed conspiratorially between us. Looking at a banned picture of Madiba made us no more revolutionary than the looming lust that was brewing in our pubescent bodies, but the government of the day believed that it would give us funny ideas that they could not contain.
There was a time in many countries where contraception was banned, and right now there are still too many countries where the right to an abortion is outlawed. The intention of this of course is to limit women’s sexual activities; the logic being that if you don’t have the right to terminate a pregnancy, you will conversely be more chaste.
History and logic have proved over and over that this is not the case; all this does is push abortion back into unsafe backstreets, making women more vulnerable in the process.
But even I have my limits.
I’m not so liberal and trusting in the human race as to believe in absolute freedom. When the South African Ministry of Health declared war on smoking and it’s related advertising several years ago, there was an outrage. Restaurants screamed that they would be forced to shut down, and sports bodies that owed their lifeline to cigarette companies prophesied war and famine. But I think we can all agree that the smoking ban has made dining a much more pleasant experience for all of us, and speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that I smoke a lot less as a direct result of the smoking ban.
Our current Health Minister has now declared a similar war on alcohol advertising.
Fact: most homicides in this country are a direct result of alcohol abuse, and drunkenness can be directly linked to many of the social and economic ills we suffer from. Liquor companies and their advertising agents cannot be surprised by this, as the minister has been warning for quite a while now what his intentions were. The question on my mind is whether this proposed ban on booze advertising will have a direct link to how we consume alcohol, thus leading us to be more responsible with our imbibing.
The government certainly hope so, but the advertisers are saying that this is a lost cause.
Of course they would say that, because they potentially have a lot of revenue to lose. That much needed jobs will be shed is obvious, but does this justify maintaining the status quo as it is? Probably not.
So this discussion begs for sober minds to prevail as we absolutely have to tackle our drinking, which is a real problem and has devastating consequences.
A total ban on alcohol advertising right now is probably impractical, but it’s definitely worth consideration, and instead of viewing it as purely an assault on the liquor industry, advertisers would be well served by coming up with solutions themselves, instead of waiting for the government to read them the riot act.
Kgomotso Matsunyane is the host of “Late Night with Kgomotso” on SABC2. She is a partner at TOM Pictures, an award winning T.V. & Film Production Company in Jo’burg. You can follow her on twitter @MotsoMatsu.