An End to Motherlessness in the Mother City?

September 28, 2010 § 2 Comments

I’ve finally touched down back in the Mother City after a steamy six-week sojourn in KwaZulu-Natal. There, next to the warm(ish), shark- and sardine-infested Indian Ocean, I admired Moses’s basket (Moses Mabhida Stadium, that is, which is probably the most gigantic basket-shaped thing in the world); cruised up and down the remarkably revamped Golden Mile promenade (North Beach on a Sunday is so incredibly representative of South African kitsch that it’s hard to tear your eyes away from it); and spotted all kinds of wildlife in assorted game reserves from Zululand to Karkloof (a hidden paradise on the far outskirts of that forgotten, forgettable provincial capital, Pietermaritzburg). Durban is a wonderful city in that it’s both gigantic and intimate, with lots of friendly Zulus, super-bronzed salt-stained surfers, and the world’s most abominable drivers. Actually, they don’t so much drive their cars, as homicidally veer from lane to lane as if under the misbegotten delusion that they’re protected by the same mythological angel of mercy who supplies the city’s parking attendants with licenses to sell Durban Poison, which–judging by the laidback attitude of just about every one of the 4 million Durbanites you might encounter–is not simply the drug of choice, but quite possibly piped into the water supply. No, really, all the rumours about Durbanites being relaxed, carefree, and somehow genetically predisposed to not giving a fuck, is totally true. I was born there and grew up between sugar cane fields and an endless sandy beach dotted with rock pools, and it’s safe to say that the country’s east coast holiday capital is super-chilled. If you can survive the suicidal traffic gymnastics you’ll discover a city with an amazing soul and the country’s most welcoming attitude. Even monkeys are welcome, and they really do still perform small-scale suburban garden invasions (raiding kitchens, too, given half a chance), although there are far fewer bananas trees these days than I remember from my childhood.

Beyond nostalgic recollections of languid years spent roasting on Umhlanga’s beaches, I’ll admit that it’s good to be back in Cape Town, if only to be surrounded by the profound natural beauty that was here long before civilized Europeans arrived and started planting gardens and vineyards so they could charge passersby to dine here and get drunk. Since the Dutch started their vegetable patch, the tsunami of taverns, dining halls, and full-blown restaurants has continued unabated, along with a more recent tidal wave of starched linen boarding houses. Set foot in Cape Town and you’d swear all we did here was eat, stir cappuccinos, quaff tequilas, and knock back designer cocktails (liquid or narcotic), before heading for the 300-count cotton sheets of some luxury hotel or guesthouse. Really, I know people are living here, but it so often feels like little more than a tourist wonderland, built and functioning for the happy masses that storm the gates at the start of summer and then battle to find the energy or will to move on. The city is immensely intoxicating—I know I’m addicted—and one of the big pulls is the sense of freedom to let your hair down and go with the flow. So blow me down with your nicotine breath if just about the first news I hear when I hit Assembly on Saturday night is that there’s a hectic new moratorium on bar operating hours and these will soon be in effect.

What a limp-wristed toffee-sucking load of bollocks. Cape Town is Africa’s ultimate playground and I fail to see how the social landscape is going to change for the better because of new, more uptight liquor licensing laws. The last time there was such a stringent crackdown on how we spend our after-dark hours, the entire clubbing landscape got severely fucked—everyone suddenly became snooty, and bouncers turned into chops in suits. But that shift in the social dynamic coincided with a violent meltdown in the way the drug syndicates were operating, not to mention a total overload of Summer of Love-style hedonism. The music also went haywire as house became commercial and dance-floors became scary platforms for self-worship and an epidemic of “look, I can dance without really moving” enthusiasts.

So what the fuck are authorities thinking now? Don’t they see that a lack of alcohol to the brain will simply force the club-hopping mental tortoises into more intimate and frenzied relationships with their dealers?

It sounds like a crackdown, an attempt to break the spirit of social animals and late-night revellers, but the methodology is stark-raving lunacy. It’s an attempt to partially cut off the supply of a deeply problematic substance, but to allow its use and abuse only within certain time slots because certain times of the day are deemed “more suitable” by a group of waspish killjoys (who won’t suffer any change to their routine since they’re safely tucked away in bed before most clubs even open their doors). It’s not a solution, people. Because it’s not drunkenness that’s going to be miraculously subverted by closing the bars earlier, only the timing of said inebriation will change. Anyone who wants to drink themselves into a disgusting mess will adjust their schedule to accommodate an earlier cut-off time. That’s a no-brainer. Drinking will simply commence a few hours earlier than usual, with a range of illegal highs on standby to ensure there’s still some reason to carry on living once bar staff have gone all lippy and unforthcoming.

Booze legislation is so deeply flawed and hypocritical that it makes opium addiction sound like a Sunday school picnic. Of course, you probably wouldn’t find any booze at that picnic, because Sunday is like this ridiculously protected day on which only selected liquor stores can trade—and you can’t even get a bottle of wine from the Pick ‘n’ Pay after 5pm on a Saturday. Truly, it is the most illogical by-product of hocus-pocus lawmaking, designed, it would seem to reward those shoppers who plan their entire weekend of drinking well in advance. And, of course, punish you for not thinking ahead. By the same logic, as with so many of our laws, they seem designed to punish everyone for the stupidity of a few.

Frankly, since I don’t touch alcohol anymore, I couldn’t give a toss about the drinking laws—other than that I wish there was an IQ test rather than a blanket age of consent system when it comes to its consumption. Surely stupid people shouldn’t be given more opportunities to become less coherent. Assholes, too. I wish there was a no drinking rule for assholes, because they very seldom become better human beings by drinking—unless they pass out, when they’re at their level best. Then again, I do know that even in our very perplexing version of witless democracy, everyone has the right to be as annoying as the next twat. I am, however, flummoxed by the stupidity and inconsistencies in the legislation. For example: Why don’t the powers that be take efforts to implement a meaningful plan that will really put an end to wide-scale drunk driving—at any time of the day or night—rather than putting up another smokescreen of infantile, nanny state policies that cuts the fun for everyone because of a few nasty trouble-makers.

Although I really shouldn’t care either way, it still befuddles the brain to imagine that any lawmaker can think that earlier bar closing times are going to make a jot of difference. The little minions will always find a means to an end and if their end is getting leglessly wasted, then legless they shall become. My mate Kirk will finish the bottle of tequila—and nobody needs to give him a time limit or incentive to do so before 2am. Perhaps I’m too cynical (that, too, is a no-brainer), but it strikes me that at weekends everyone on Long Street is drunk long before midnight, and most binge-drinking students have spent all their cash even earlier than that. So it’s really only those ultra-devoted types who have made a commitment to one particular component of the economy (booze consumption) who are being marginalized by the new laws; the rest of us have a host of naughty alternatives. But we’re suddenly going to have to put up with lots of bewildered barflies looking for alternative social outlets when they suddenly discover that the party is over and they might as well sink their hard-earned cash into some kind of investment policy. Or they’ll drink at home, and probably quite a bit more, because it’s cheaper and a lot more anti-social. Because the law prohibits you from buying a drink at a bar one moment, despite the fact that it was a perfectly legitimate act of economic exchange only a minute ago. In a democracy, where free enterprise is supposedly encouraged, when will we give people responsibility for their own behaviour and their own choices? If you’re prepared to tell people that because alcohol is a ruinous, dangerous substance you’re going to limit their right to deal in it, tell them that they simply may not serve alcohol to drunk people. Full stop. We’ve all seen it done in the movies–barmen refusing to serve a blind-drunk man on the verge of losing wife or job–so why not in Cape Town? If you want to curb the degree to which people destroy their brains, their livers and their marriages, then make an effort to discourage drunkenness. Or raise the legal age limit. Or make them complete an IQ test before giving them their drinking license.

Then again, during the recent public services debacle, I was told repeatedly that there’s a big problem with teachers turning up drunk at work, so perhaps early bar closures will help improve the public school system. Or perhaps the teachers can put on a strike opposing the city’s new drinking laws. Then the media will have something fun to worry about again, and our middle class conversations will all feel so relevant. If the city’s lawmakers really want to make a difference, why not make a genuine effort to help the kids living on the streets, begging at traffic lights, sniffing petrol. Those children don’t just need a curfew, they need a place to call home. I hear 15 on Orange has plenty of empty rooms and a kitchen filled with unserved food. Or are we living in a city where the tourists are more important than the people who live here—’cause if there’s one place you’ll always find a drink after midnight, it’s in your hotel room mini-bar.

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§ 2 Responses to An End to Motherlessness in the Mother City?

    • Karen van der Merwe says:

      “Assholes, too. I wish there was a no drinking rule for assholes, because they very seldom become better human beings by drinking—unless they pass out, when they’re at their level best.” My favourite part. Veral daai laaste stukkie. We’ll be discussing this in person in a very level headed way.

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