A group of teenagers carrying bottles of beer and cider could be seen dancing in the streets to loud music from a liquor outlet in Makgofe village on Saturday night.
Makgofe, 20km outside Polokwane in Limpopo, was having a lively night with people walking the streets freely with their alcoholic beverages in hand.
A scuffle broke out among the young revellers, causing the group to disappear into the dark streets for a while before returning to the spot opposite the tavern.
Some of them looked younger than 18, which is South Africa’s minimum legal drinking age.
Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies released the National Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016 for public consultation last week as part of government’s efforts to reduce alcohol abuse in the country.
The Bill includes stricter regulations for liquor advertising, as well as making outlets that sell alcohol to customers who are already intoxicated legally liable for any offence or damage caused by the drunk customer.
According to a 2015 study by the University of Limpopo published in the African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine, 35.5% of male and 29.7% of female learners consume alcohol.
Factors including peer pressure, gender and parental alcohol use were listed among major contributors to drinking for pupils.
Empty bottles could be seen lying around where the group was sitting. A 19-year-old who was taking a sip from his beer bottle told Sowetan he started drinking at the age of 12. “It became a way of blowing off steam after exams and also celebrating. We had older brothers who would buy alcohol for us,” he said.
Amanda Swanepoel from the SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in Limpopo said changing the legal drinking age would not help unless there was tougher law enforcement.
Swanepoel said they were seeing more minors, including 13-year-olds, coming to their facilities to get help with addiction to various substances, especially nyaope. She said it was concerning that teenagers carried on drinking with little or no consequence despite the age requirement.
She said teenagers were drinking alcohol and using drugs, sometimes at school and right under their parents’ noses.
“What happens to them if they drink? Nothing happens to them. We need to address this in a different way,” Swanepoel said. She said people also needed to be educated on the perils of alcoholism.
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