OPINION: Time to change our behaviour

Phiri Cawe

The sale of alcohol and cigarettes is no longer prohibited, putting an end to weeks of debate about the ban.

While some people suspected hidden agendas and accused the president of killing these industries and the economy at large, I was more positive and suggested that it might bring about some much-needed behavioural change in South Africa.

Among the positive changes I hope to see is a more responsible approach to alcohol consumption, an end to corruption and that ordinary workers will be appreciated, valued and treated as human beings.

When the ban on cigarettes was not lifted, and alcohol sales were banned – again – on July 12, many people had something they loved taken away from them.

While I can’t say I relate – because I do not drink or smoke – I could see that this cut deep for many people.

And it forced us to own up to the fact that despite drinking having been a major problem for society for a long time, we simply tolerated it… until Covid-19 forced us to acknowledge the impact it has when not enjoyed responsibly.

When the ban on alcohol sales was temporarily lifted, all hell broke loose and medical facilities were overwhelmed with victims of alcohol-related trauma cases like car crashes, stabbings and assault.

In addition to this, we were reminded of the increased risk we put ourselves at when we shared glasses while drinking liquor, or shared cigarettes.

It wasn’t long before President Cyril Ramaphosa had to backtrack on the decision to allow alcohol sales.

Of course there was an outcry from the liquor industry and consumers.

My cry was about the apparent lack of consultation.

One truth is that the liquor industry employs many people, and therefore puts food on the tables of many households.

However, another truth is that the president was under immense pressure, with scientists and doctors warning him about the peak that was coming and the trauma cases that would fill hospital emergency rooms.

Some accused the president of killing the economy, while others criticised him for encouraging the black market to flourish.

Would he choose economy over life or the other way round?

I arrived at the conclusion that President Ramaphosa was really between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

It was difficult – maybe even impossible – for him to make a decision that would satisfy all of us.

I would not want to be him, having to deal not only with a pandemic, but the accusations of corruption and looting of funds meant to support those feeling the financial burden of these difficult times.

So, in my prayers, I will ask that companies that are busy pocketing the UIF TERS money will learn to be humans.

I will pray that the drivers of corruption in both the private sector and the government will change.

I will pray that ordinary workers will be appreciated, valued and treated as human beings.

And those found guilty must be made to pay back the money rather than being jailed – because it appears that Correctional Services is not really rehabilitating offenders anyway.

The truth is Covid-19 has shown us flames. We became selfish and cared nothing for others.

But change is imminent. Change is coming and all will benefit from the Covid’s lessons.

Eventually all the pain shall go. Let us be patient.