Mmegi Online :: Can gov’t cure self-inflicted ‘cancer’?
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Thursday 22 February 2018, 23:12 pm.
Can gov’t cure self-inflicted ‘cancer’?

When government recklessly increased the infamous Alcohol Levy willy-nilly in the last eight years, there was caution from some quarters that the move was likely to usher in black market and uncontrolled drug abuse. Could there be a link between high alcohol prices and an increase in drug abuse? Mmegi Staffer BAME PIET explores the possibilities
By Bame Piet Fri 01 Dec 2017, 16:07 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Can gov’t cure self-inflicted ‘cancer’?

At a pub in a township just less than 20 kilometres outside Gaborone, a group of youth are enjoying their drinks on a Saturday afternoon, probably after attending a funeral or preparing for a wedding in the neighbourhood. Social events and frequenting bars are the kind of entertainment common in rural areas where there are no recreational facilities. 

Rasta* joins one the groups carrying a 750 ml drink commonly known as a quart. Not far from the group of four, sits another seemingly older group of youth who are also busy with their conversation and not interested in Rasta’s arrival.

A few minutes after settling, he produces a small plastic bag with some green stuff inside.  He passes it to a ‘comrade’, who decries that it looks like a lejaja.

 “It is very good, I got it from Sparks,” Rasta responds immediately to nullify any attempt to discredit his sense of choice.

The friend immediately produces a pair of scissors, chops the seemingly hard leaves and branches of the green stuff, and prepares a joint. Rasta offers him a piece of white sheet of paper or Rizla.

All the boys are in their early 20s and grew up together in this area. They do not care who is watching and they light their joint up and enjoy it in the vicinity of everyone. They share the quart. Rasta explains to this reporter that he is a high school leaver and did not perform well in his examinations three years back. He survives on menial jobs and petty crime, pickpocketing to be exact, on hard days.

 “Life is tough bro,” he says in the middle of a smoke spewing through his nose and mouth. He argues that he enjoys zolo because it is affordable and can be accessed anytime – day and night. In addition, he says, he can stay high for a long time unlike alcohol for which he is forced to spend a lot of money just for a brief kick.

His friend of a similar age, chips in, defending the use of dagga saying, “we never harass anybody after taking this. It makes us cool compared to our age-mates who drink beer”. As for a Black Label quart, the duo says they use it to quench their thirst and not to stay intoxicated. They argue that high alcohol prices drove them to the use of dagga.

One group member ushers in a topic for discussion: “Why does the government still allow flogging in customary courts?” Some members of the group hold differing views on the administration of corporal punishment, with others saying it is the best and quickest way to deal with unruly youngsters. Others say it should be abolished. They argue that there is no justice in customary courts and that one can only appeal after they have been walloped.

As the debate rages on, another group member contributes a small plastic packet, and a Rizla, and the joint rolls again. The quart is fairly shared amongst the members since it is not known where the next will come from. Apparently, they pin their hopes on the arrival of a good Samaritan who may rescue the situation by buying one for them.

Drug and alcohol abuse are a result of a bigger problem, says a Head of Department of Sociology at University of Botswana (UB), Professor Monageng Mogalakwe. The society has disintegrated and urbanisation has worsened the problem. He says in urban centres, neighbours hardly talk or greet each other and therefore nobody wants interference in their lives. “In the past my parent was your parent,  my child was your child, but all that has disappeared, especially in urban centres. Ke gore mongwe le mongwe o a itshelela and you cannot tell your neighbour’s child to behave”.

According to Mogalakwe, the decision to increase alcohol prices should have been informed by research findings or evidence that indeed there was a problem of alcohol abuse and that it is a national problem.

“I am not aware if the government presented any statistics, or evidence to show that alcoholism was a national problem. Was there evidence that increasing the levy was going to present a solution to the problem? These are some questions that need to be answered. The conclusions were spurious.”

Mogalakwe argues that the initial goal for introducing the alcohol levy was not to make money but to reduce alcoholism.

However, he has observed, the authorities are now celebrating the amount it has collected instead of whether it has achieved its goal of reducing alcohol consumption. So far the alcohol levy has surpassed P2 billion according to last month’s State of the Nation Address by President Khama.

“I have always argued that when you increase the levy, it is the children or families of alcohol drinkers who are going to bear the brunt. If you increase a beer by P2 for instance, the breadwinner will compensate that P2 by reducing the amount they spend on groceries/food or on the welfare of the family. My view is that it doesn’t necessarily mean that when you increase a beer price then the drinker will reduce their drinking. Instead,


this will plunge many families into poverty. The person who puts food on the table will still continue with their drinking habits,” he argues.

The sociologist argues that a lot was overlooked when the decision was taken. He argues further that even reducing operating hours for liquor outlets was ill-informed since it could be linked to underground alcohol traders and mushrooming of shebeens.

“When you serve alcohol, it is easy for you to regulate it because you would know who is licensed and who is not. So, why not let people drink any time they want?”

Mogalakwe argues that different people visit bars for different reasons. “Some people go to bars to socialise with others, some people go to bars because they want to drink in the company of their friends. Others drink because they may have nothing to do on that particular day.” He says the problem of substance abuse in Botswana, if there is one, is deeply rooted and could be a result of many problems.

“People are unemployed and sometimes even staying at home can be traumatising. Imagine, you have children but nothing to give them. Some prefer to go and drink and postpone their problems”.

He says others use drugs because they cannot afford alcohol. Many young people, Form 3 and Form5 school leavers, have nothing to do and they have plenty of time on their hands, he adds. There is a possibility that some people are using drugs such as dagga to fill that space created by high alcohol prices.

However, one of the biggest concerns that haunts Mogalakwe is that the government hardly engages the UB to conduct research on national issues such as this.  He states that social research is a very expensive endeavour to undertake and the government should be in the forefront of utilising UB for research.

 He says there is need to conduct research on whether indeed alcohol consumption is responsible for accidents in our roads; whether it is responsible for gender-based violence and other social ills.

“For instance, the vehicle population in our country is growing everyday, but our roads have not been improved.   The Ministry of Health and Wellness is usually unfriendly in releasing public information and it was not surprising this time around.  So, Mmegi efforts to get statistics from the ministry did not bear any fruit.

However, Mmegi archives show that mental health illnesses are on the increase although this problem cannot be linked to drug abuse.

The archives show that in 2011 S’brana Psychiatric Hospital admitted several thousands of both in and out patients, majority of which were from Gaborone aged between 25 and 44-yearsof age, making up 49% of the patient population. In 2003, there were 29,520 outpatient attendances across the country, with the figure rising to 38,994 in 2007. Sbrana Psychiatric Hospital attended to 5,073 outpatients and admitted 1,371 in 2011.

 Last year health minister, Dorcas Makgato told the National Assembly that they have conducted research for which findings showed a decline in alcohol consumption and attributed it to the levy.

Police spokesperson, assistant Commissioner Dipheko Motube is confident that the operation coordinated by Senior Assistant Commissioner Nunu Lesetedi and Boots, the dog that has attained celebrity status by sniffing out drug dealers, will bear fruit, although some people say it is targeting the small man.

He says it will definitely drive down the commission of serious offences. He says there are two categories of crimes – police generated crimes and public generated offences. In the first category, the police go out to look for offenders and they root them out whilst in the second category the offences are committed and never reach the attention of the police. He says there is nothing like a small criminal.
“These are people who could later commit serious offences if left unchecked. When police generated small crimes go up, then big crimes go down”.

He says a dagga smoker may be regarded as a small criminal, but they are potential candidates for serious offences such as assault, robbery, rape, murder, and assault.

“When we go out to hunt down these small criminals and arrest them, the likelihood of commission of serious crimes goes down because we would have kept them under our radar”.

Despite being on National Television everyday, the police do not have figures on the number of kilogrammes they have confiscate from the 39 suspects arrested thus far. The average age of the suspects is 24-years of age and seven of them were women.  Motube said the dealers use various methods to conceal their drugs, such as renting houses, using empty bottles and keeping them in underwear.

“There is also improvised drugs such as cough syrup which is mixed with Fanta and students’ favourite. Recently, we arrested several people who were selling cough syrup at the bus rank, which we know was used as a drug”.

While the police believe that their operations will wipe out criminals off the face of earth, Mogalakwe holds a very different view that the problem would not go away if the root problem is not addressed and that can only be achieved by knowing the problem.


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