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Posts tagged ‘alcoholism’

One Nation?

One of the oddest features of the transition from apartheid to democracy was the slew of beer advertisements, proclaiming the unity of the nation on the grounds of a shared enthusiasm for Castle Lager or Carling Black Label. There is a generation of South Africans who can chant South African Breweries’ slogan, ‘One Nation, One Soul, One Beer, One Goal,’ based entirely on having watched the 1998 Soccer World Cup on television.

This use of beer as a unifier which cut across boundaries of both race and class – although not, interestingly, gender (these advertisements celebrate a kind of hypermasculinity associated with the mining or construction industries) – was supremely ironic given the apartheid state’s attempts to control Africans’ consumption of alcohol, and particularly beer.

I’ve been thinking about the long, fraught politics of beer in South Africa as a furore has erupted over new attempts to limit alcohol sales, particularly in Gauteng and the Western Cape. Because municipalities and provinces control the terms according to which alcohol can be sold, rules around buying alcohol are complex. In the Western Cape, the new regulations will outlaw the sale of alcohol to be consumed offsite on Sundays and on all days after 18:00. No alcohol may be consumed at school functions, and in vehicles, and no person may buy or possess more than 150 litres of alcohol (that’s around 200 bottles of wine).

In Gauteng, draft legislation will make all sales of alcohol on Sundays illegal. Although these two provinces have received most attention from the media – partly because the country’s national newspapers and broadcasters are based in Cape Town and Johannesburg – there are attempts all over South Africa to limit how South Africans buy booze: the George municipality is considering outlawing the sale of all alcohol after 20:00 on Sundays; KwaZulu-Natal province may ban anyone under the age of eighteen from liquor aisles, and require supermarkets to devote a cashier specifically to alcohol sales. The Minister for Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, has even floated raising the legal age of drinking from eighteen to twenty-one.

This is all very confusing, and some shops have complained that this legislation hinders their business, and it’s doubtful that the police will be able to enforce these regulations. Many South Africans have questioned the efficacy of this legislation in reducing violent crime and road accidents – which is what these new regulations are intended to do. Although provincial governments and municipalities have cited studies which demonstrate the social and health benefits of limiting alcohol sales, there are, equally, others which suggest that higher liquor prices and taxes have little effect on the buying habits of heavy drinkers (meaning that they’re more likely to spend less on food or other essentials). Indeed, it’s probable that a black market may develop for illegal alcohol – causing drinkers inadvertently to consume poisonous liquor.

Beer

This impulse to control how much people drink in the name of preserving order and protecting the vulnerable is nothing new. The global temperance movement which emerged during the final decades of the nineteenth century, lobbied for limiting alcohol sales to men to reduce levels of domestic violence. The Cape Colony’s chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, established in Wellington, in the heart of the Cape winelands, in 1889, encouraged children, in particular, to take the temperance pledge, opened coffee shops to lure men away from canteens (or bars), and petitioned the colonial government to raise the price of liquor and reduce its availability. The WCTU distributed pamphlets, describing the apparently appalling consequences of the ‘demon drink’ for physical and mental health. People who drank had low morals, the ladies of the WCTU argued, and were at risk of falling into destitution. Members of the Myrtle branch, a temperance society for children in Wellington, were informed in 1896 ‘that strong drink leads to anger, debt, despair, destruction, and death’.

Although the WCTU encouraged middle-class men to become teetotal, its efforts were aimed overwhelmingly at men who were working-class and poor. These men – less ‘civilised’ then their middle-class betters – were characterised as uniquely prone to violence and, thus, in greater need of supervision.

Other than the fact that prohibition has never really stopped people from drinking, I think it’s worth thinking twice about limiting access to liquor because this has usually been the product of wider, social anxieties rather than of any real concern about the effects of alcohol on human bodies.

The 1928 Liquor Act was an attempt to shape how African men would consume alcohol. But, as Anne Mager explains, it was a nightmare to implement:

Exemptions to prohibition were granted in the Cape Province and Natal to African men deemed to have attained a certain ‘standard of civilization’. Permits were conditional on two years of good behaviour under the Liquor Act, a clean criminal record and permanent employment. African permit holders were limited to eight bottles of malt beer, four bottles of natural wine or two fortified wines and one bottle of spirits per month. Nevertheless, the privilege of education, property and professional status did not entitle exempted African men to enter bars and public houses frequented by whites or to drink in a friends’ home. Beyond the Cape and Natal, Africans were restricted to ‘kaffir beer’.

This was legislation driven by fear of ‘subjects perceived as immature and dangerously close to barbarism.’ However, they were also subjects from whom the state could profit. From 1937 onwards, a model of municipal beer production pioneered in Durban in 1908, was adopted around South Africa. Municipal beer halls, which had a monopoly on the sale of beer in these areas, with were established in townships and other informal settlements, providing intense competition for the existing shebeens. The profits raised by the halls went back to the municipality, and this was why so many towns and cities adopted this very lucrative scheme. It not only controlled African consumption of alcohol, but it made municipalities rather a lot of money. By the mid-1960s, more than sixty municipalities were operating beer halls.

These beer halls posed a significant threat to African brewers. CM Rogerson writes:

The introduction of municipal beer monopoly and beer halls occasioned considerable response from the community of shebeeners and home brewers, whose livelihood was threatened by the ending of prohibition and competition from municipal beer. Resistance towards municipal monopoly was manifested in various ways, including mass organised boycotts on new beer halls, rioting and the destruction of beer halls and the spreading of rumours by women shebeeners that municipal beer was making their menfolk sterile. For example, at Welkom in the Orange Free State the opening in 1956 of a municipal brewery and the withdrawal of home brewing permits sparked township rioting and attacks on the new beer hall.

As Rogerson implies, the people who had the most to lose from the municipal beer halls were African women, who controlled much of the production of beer in the ‘locations’ on the edge of towns and cities. Women were at the centre of beer production and selling. They tended to be unmarried, and could become relatively powerful. The figure of the ‘shebeen queen’ recurs in many of the novels depicting life in South African cities during the first half of the twentieth century.

It was women, too, who controlled the flourishing illegal production of alcohol. At the end of 1960, there were 30,000 illegal brewers in the Western Cape, and more than 10,000 shebeens in Soweto. But this was a business carried out in constant threat: women bore the brunt of police crackdowns on the trade. Unsurprisingly, then, women brewers and shebeen owners were often on the forefront of anti-government protest too. Most famously, they had a key role in the Cato Manor Beer Hall riots in 1959. Not only did these women berate men for drinking at municipal beer halls, but they resisted police raids on their shebeens.

Illegal beer brewing became, then, for African women both an act of political resistance, as well as a means of supporting themselves in a heavily patriarchal society.

All of this changed in 1962 when the apartheid state agreed – partly as a result of intense lobbying from industry – to open up sales of alcohol to Africans. However, this sale was still tightly controlled by the state, as Mager writes:

Since they were permitted to purchase but not consume liquor in town, Africans were effectively restricted to buying liquor at outlets (on- and off-consumption) run by the Bantu Areas Administration Boards (BAAB) in prescribed African townships. These outlets were built adjacent to the beer halls that supplied sorghum beer to working men. They comprised bars for women and men and ‘off-sales’ bottle stores. The consolidated infrastructure facilitated government monopoly in the distribution of European liquor. Local BAABs retained 20 per cent of the profits on liquor sales for the development of township amenities; 80 per cent went to the Department of Bantu Administration (BAD) head office for the financing of apartheid.

African alcohol consumption helped to fund the apartheid state. It also swelled the profits of South African Breweries, which supplied both state-run outlets as well as the illegal shebeens.

The sale of alcohol in South Africa has, then, a complex and fraught history. It is intertwined with anxieties about the control of black people in ‘white’ cities: by bringing alcohol provision within the ambit of the state, Africans’ consumption of alcohol could (in theory) be regulated, but they were, unwittingly, contributing to their own continued subordination by the apartheid regime.

Trying to manage people – either as a result of fear or out of a desire to eradicate social ills – through limiting the control of alcohol will never be fully successful. In fact, trying to stop people from drinking on Sundays or in the evenings just prevents them from drinking on Sundays or in the evenings – it doesn’t actually address the problems which cause people to drink in excess, or which cause men to beat up their wives and children.

Sources

Iain Edwards, ‘Shebeen Queens: Illicit Liquor and the Social Structure of Drinking Dens in Cato Manor,’ Agenda, no. 3 (1988), pp. 75-97.

Anne Mager, ‘“One Beer, One Goal, One Nation, One Soul”: South African Breweries, Heritage, Masculinity and Nationalism 1960-1999,’ Past and Present, no. 188 (Aug. 2005), pp. 163-194.

Anne Mager, ‘The First Decade of “European Beer” in Apartheid South Africa: The State, Brewers, and the Drinking Public, 1962-1972,’ Journal of African History, vol. 40 (1999), pp. 367-388.

Gary Minkley, ‘“I Shall Die Married to the Beer”: Gender, “Family” and Space in the East London Locations, c.1923-1952,’ Kronos, no. 23 (Nov. 1996), pp. 135-157.

CM Rogerson, ‘A Strange Case of Beer: The State and Sorghum Beer Manufacture in South Africa,’ Area, vol. 18, no. 1 (1986), pp. 15-24.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

A Cup of Coffee

One of the best articles explaining the context in which the recent Western Cape farm workers’ strike occurred, notes that even the new minimum wage introduced as a result of the action is

not enough to make ends meet, some Western Cape farmworkers subsist on little else but black coffee during the last few days of each month.

This piece in the Mail and Guardian drew my attention because it resonates with another description of poverty in rural South Africa. During the early decades of the twentieth century, C. Louis Leipoldt – medical doctor, eugenicist, food anthropologist, proto-Afrikaner nationalist, writer, Buddhist, and poet – worked as the Medical Inspector for Schools in the Transvaal province of the newly created Union of South Africa. He described his experiences of working in the lowveld – the hot, humid and, formerly, malaria-infested region in present day Mpumalanga – in Bushveld Doctor (1937).

Much of the focus of this collection of essays is a description of the everyday life, beliefs, and struggles of a population of impoverished whites scratching a miserable existence in a disease-riddled area. He ascribed the poor health of the children to endemic malaria and bilharzia, and also malnutrition. Leipoldt described one nine year-old patient:

When he left home in the morning his father gave him an inch of twist tobacco which he put into his mouth and chewed on his way to school. That and a cup of coffee (made from the root of a Bushveld tree) constituted his breakfast. There were other lads in the school who did the same to stay the pangs of incipient hunger.

Leipoldt observed that these Bushveld children were shorter than their better-fed and altogether healthier urban contemporaries. The problem was that good, nutritious food was in short supply. These subsistence farmers simply could not afford to eat well:

Malnutrition is prevalent because food is scarce in the Bushveld, where fresh fruit and vegetables are difficult to obtain, and because the children exist on an unbalanced diet. Their staple food is mielie meal, which has a low nutritive value. Milk and fresh meat are scarce. Wheaten bread is common enough, and of fair quality when obtainable, but it is not a staple article of diet. Fats are rarely included in the diet, and fresh butter is a comparative rarity.

In today’s language, these families were food insecure. Indeed, as are the farm workers described by the Mail and Guardian:

many farmworkers … are dependent on on-the-farm stores for food. Many farmworkers and NGOs accuse farmers of pricing foodstuffs higher than commercial shops.

This, compounded with low wages, further promotes food insecurity. ‘Prices in rural areas are always slightly higher than they are in urban areas. So if farmers are charging more than the market price, which is already high, farmworkers just can’t afford food,’ says [Colette Solomon, of the NGO Women on Farms], and explains that average household income is R1 500 a month. ‘Many farmworkers buy on credit, but the prices are so high that … when they get paid, they have to pay their debts back and basically don’t have money left.’

As a result of this

Stunted growth is not unusual: a study done by the University of Cape Town in the 1990s showed that farmworkers in the province are, on average, an inch (2.5cm) shorter than city dwellers.

In November last year, grape pickers in the Hex River Valley went on strike. Demanding higher wages – R150 an hour, rather than the minimum wage of R70 – the strike spread from De Doorns to Robertson, Wolesley, Ceres, Prince Alfred Hamlet, and elsewhere. Hundreds of strikers marched, gathered, and erected barricades. In some townships, the stand-off between strikers and police turned violent, as protestors pelted cops with rocks, and the police used rubber bullets, tear gas, and water canons to disperse the crowds. Shops were looted, and vines set alight. Two people were killed. There were allegations of police brutality.

The strike was called off in December and then resumed in January this year. In the meanwhile, efforts to mediate between farm workers, farmers, and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries were not productive. The Department’s decision to raise the minimum wage to R105 – thus ending the strike – was met with a lukewarm reaction from nearly everyone connected to the strike, with some farmers arguing that higher wages will force them to retrench workers.

What was so surprising about the strike was that it happened at all. Alongside domestic workers, farm labourers have one of the lowest rates of union membership in South Africa. When the strike began, both the African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance – which controls the Western Cape – accused each other of organising the workers. The union alliance Cosatu was caught unwares and scrambled to take control of the strike, but with limited success. The strike in January was more formally organised by both Cosatu and the more radical Bawsi Agricultural Workers Union of South Africa led by Nosey Pieterse, but, even so, these two organisations’ mandate for representing the strikers is shaky. (Pieterse is currently under investigation for intimidating non-striking workers. He is also suing the Cape Times for describing him as a member of the ‘lumpenproletariat.’)

This is a very cursory overview of the strike. As Rebecca Davis’s excellent reporting for the Daily Maverick shows, workers went on strike for a range of reasons – from genuine anger at low wages, to disputes around municipal politics.

It’s partly because of the complexity of the strike that I’ve avoided writing about it. Also, I’ve been concerned that I am too close to the issue to view it dispassionately. I grew up in Paarl and Stellenbosch, two towns in the Boland’s wine-producing area. I went to school with the daughters of farmers and, later, farm workers. (Our primary school opened to all races in 1992.) On Saturday mornings in the early- and mid-1990s, my father used to take my sister and I around local wine estates. We fed oak leaves to the goats at Fairview, and chatted to old Mrs Back in the cheese shop.

As daughters of politically aware and active parents, we knew how to identify ‘good’ from ‘bad’ farmers. We could spot which farms allowed labourers to live in damp, tumbledown cottages without running water and electricity.  We saw which farms had legions of children not in school. It’s likely that those farmers may still have paid their workers in the form of alcohol, usually cheap brandy. The ‘dop’ (or ‘tot’) system originated during the nineteenth century on wine farms in the Boland as a means both of paying workers, as well as ensuring their dependency on farmers: alcoholic labourers would be less likely to move to Cape Town in search of better-paid work in the Cape Colony’s burgeoning industry.

Since 1994, the dop system has been banned, legislation restricting child labour introduced, and a minimum wage – now raised as a result of the strike – enforced. But these new laws have had a limited impact on farm workers: they have not reduced astronomically high rates of alcoholism which have caused the region to have one of the highest incidences of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in the world; they have not compensated families for the loss of income brought in by children; they have not ended the cycle of domestic violence which disproportionately effects women on farms; many workers still live in appalling conditions, often with no access to electricity and running water. NGOs like Women on Farms have collected horrific testimony of women raped by their employers; of families being turned out of houses without warning and for, apparently, no reason; and of labourers overworked and maimed by machinery.

I began by drawing attention to two examples of South African rural poverty – one from the beginning of the twentieth century, another a hundred years later – to demonstrate the relative usefulness of understanding contemporary events in historical context. I don’t pretend to know enough about the wine and fruit industries in the Western Cape to be able to account for the strike itself, but I was struck by how often journalists, strikers, politicians, and others referred to slavery and apartheid when trying to understand the strike and the unique relationship between farmers and their labourers in this region.

The South African wine industry was profitable during the twentieth century partly because it could rely on a steady supply of cheap – even free – labour. Farmers could justify labourers’ exceptionally low wages on the grounds of the paternalistic system of employment which existed – and still exists, to some extent – on the farms:

The relationships between farm-owners and workers have not been simply exploitative, but were shaped by the discourses of paternalism. The notion of themselves as benevolent but firm protectors and disciplinarians of a grateful and appreciative population of on-farm servants has been an important part of the self-conception of farmers in the Western Cape and elsewhere in South Africa since the eighteenth century. Ultimately, however, it was a hierarchical relationship, marginalising and silencing the voices of those whose labour helped create the wealth of the sector.

Although it’s debatable if the Cape Colony’s system of slavery could accurately be described as ‘paternalistic’ (and this is still the subject of some debate among historians), it was certainly the case that an inherently unequal, dependent relationship developed over time between farmers and farmworkers. Although paid and treated appallingly badly, farmworkers were usually provided with (rudimentary) housing, some food, and other basics.

Boschendal, Stellenbosch

Boschendal, Stellenbosch

My point is that however terrible the circumstances in which farmers may work and live – and Human Rights Watch released a damning report into them in 2011 – to argue that we need to understand the relationship between farmers and their workers in the context of nineteenth- or, even, early twentieth-century labour politics is mistaken. We need to look at the more recent past.

The South African wine industry has changed significantly since the mid-90s, from selling what was, often, so-so plonk to the locals, to a massive tourism concern and export business. As Joachim Ewert and Andries du Toit have demonstrated, since the beginning of the deregulation of the industry in the early 1980s, South African producers have become subject to the vagaries of the international export market, new estates have emerged as new wine growing regions have been planted, yields have increased, and previously powerful co-operatives have amalgamated and disappeared.

Although there were efforts to reform labour relations during the 1980s, led largely by the Rural Foundation, and in response to changes in the wine industry, it was only after 1994 that there was adequate political will radically to do away with the old paternalism:

A paternalist state has stepped in to push back the paternalist authority of the farmer, and has created new limits to farmers’ control over workers’ lives. These changes seriously challenge the legal and formal underpinnings of traditional farm paternalism.

But challenging paternalism is not the same as replacing it. There is considerable evidence that many farmers are reluctant to comply with labour legislation, if not downright hostile to it.

There has been a major change in how wine, and also fruit, farmers employ labour since the end of the 1990s. This is partly the result of mechanisation and more efficient farming methods, but it is also the product of farmers’ resistance to legislation which raises the wages and living standards of workers:

Facing a sustained challenge to their power as employers and feeling increasing competitive pressures, many farmers seem to be opting for the one measure sill within their power: restructuring their businesses. Many are resorting to casualization, externalisation, and contractualisation, deepening an already segmented labour market and further deepening the divide between ‘winners’ and ‘losers.’

Johan Fourie has shown that the numbers of workers employed on farms in the Cape Winelands District Municipality has declined dramatically since 1995:

even while output has increased by 1.4% annually over the entire period …, employment has fallen from more than 120 000 jobs to fewer than 50 000 today.

Loss of permanent jobs on farms also means eviction, and over the past decade or so, the numbers of employed former farm workers living in desperate poverty in shacks or overcrowded homes on the fringes of picturesque winelands towns and villages, have swelled. They are dependent on seasonal work and on social grants. Alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, and child abuse are rife.

The recent, horrific rape and murder of Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp – one of these pretty rural towns – has drawn attention to the social implications of this change in rural employment.

There are many progressive wine farmers who have established crèches and primary schools, founded organisations to eradicate FAS, provided transport and bursaries to get farm children to school, and attempted to find ways of reducing alcoholism and domestic violence.

For instance, the Fair Valley Association was founded by Fairview workers in 1997, with the assistance of Charles Back, the owner of the wine farm. It helps labourers to buy land and build houses, and includes these workers in the day-to-day running of the estate. Similarly, at Solms Delta in Franschhoek, neuroscientist Mark Solms

organise[d] a loan, with his land as collateral, that allowed the 180 workers connected to his farm to buy 30 hectares connected to Solms’s land. Solms, along with his neighbour Richard Astor, joined forces with the farm workers, each a one-third partner in the Solms-Delta wine venture.

Through the Wijn de Caab Trust established in the workers’ names, Solms-Delta provides comfortable housing, health and dental benefits, plus Internet access, a full-time social worker and an afterschool teacher to help kids with their homework. One of Solms-Delta’s most successful ventures beyond the vines has been their music program: There are four bands on the farm, including an 80-person marching band. ‘A friend of mine likes to joke,’ says Solms, ‘that we don’t only farm wine, we farm music.’

The single biggest allocation from the workers’ trust has gone towards improving education.

Solms Delta is, truly, a beacon for other wine farms in the region. Its transformation is grounded in Solms’s realisation that he had no more claim to owning the farm than the generations of workers who have lived on it. The estate has acknowledged its slave past in an excellent museum, and workers’ pride in their involvement in the farm is palpable. (Do go, if you can.)

But the trouble with these – and other – laudable efforts is that they are aimed largely at those workers who remain on farms – and not the legion of unemployed, and potentially unemployable, labourers who have been pushed off farms since the late 1990s. These casual labourers constituted a significant portion of the strikers in November and January.

This returns to my original point about using the past to illuminate the present. Although slave pasts don’t really help to understand contemporary systems of employment, I think it’s worth thinking about rural poverty in the twenty-first century to that a hundred years earlier.

The emergence of a substantial population of ‘poor whites’ – like the people documented by Leipoldt – occurred as a result of many factors, including the transformation of agriculture into a capitalist enterprise. Poor white tenant and small farmers moved into towns and cities in search of work, while others lived in poverty in the countryside.

By the end of the 1920s, it was estimated that out of a total of 1,800,000 whites, 300,000 were ‘very poor’, and nearly all of these were Afrikaans. The Carnegie Commission of Investigation on the Poor White Question (1929-1932) concluded that an inability to adapt to a changing economic climate, outdated farming methods, and poor education were to blame for the existence of such a large population of impoverished whites.

In 1929, the South African government devoted 13 per cent of its budget to the eradication of white poverty. Much of this went to education, social welfare, and housing. The introduction of more stringent segregationist legislation progressively disenfranchised blacks, and reserved skilled work for whites.

I don’t want to draw glib parallels between the 1920s and 1930s and the 2010s – after all, white poverty was eliminated by the 1960s because of the systematic marginalisation of black workers. But I think that it’s worth noting that South Africa managed to eradicate one form of rural poverty during the twentieth century. By historicising poverty, we understand that it is not the fault of the impoverished – that poverty is the product of massive social, political, and economic change. More importantly, we see that with political will, it is not impossible to do away with it. It is eminently possible to stop people from having to live on black coffee.

Sources

Joachim Ewert and Andries du Toit, ‘A Deepening Divide in the Countryside: Restructuring and Rural Livelihoods in the South African Wine Industry,’ Journal of Southern African Studies, vol. 31, no. 2 (June 2005), pp. 315-332.

Bill Freund, ‘The Poor Whites: A Social Force and a Social Problem in South Africa,’ in White but Poor: Essays on the History of Poor Whites in Southern Africa 1880-1940, ed. Robert Morrell (Pretoria: Unisa Press, 1992), pp. xiii-xxiii.

C. Louis Leipoldt, Bushveld Doctor (Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, [1937] 1980).

Robert Ross, ‘Paternalism, Patriarchy, and Afrikaans,’ South African Historical Journal, vol. 32 (May 1995), pp. 34-47.

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Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.