Insight: African alcohol binge raises pressure for crackdown

Wed Aug 8, 2012 10:08am EDT
 
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By Tiisetso Motsoeneng

WORCESTER, South Africa (Reuters) - On a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in Worcester, a forlorn rural community near South Africa's southern tip, the queue at the liquor store is the longest in town.

It's a scene constantly repeated across South Africa and a number of other nations on the continent: the prelude to a weekend of binge drinking.

After years of turning a blind eye to alcohol abuse, politicians from South Africa to Kenya and Zambia are under pressure to tackle a problem that is adding to Africa's burden of HIV, birth defects, road accidents and violent crime.

Africa has the world's highest proportion of binge drinkers, even though its large populations of Muslims and evangelical Christians generally abstain from alcohol. As incomes rise, it has become a boom market for international brewers and distillers whose sales are often flagging in the wealthy world.

"It's true that most people in Africa don't drink for cultural, religious and economic reasons but those who drink, drink a lot," said Dr Vladimir Poznyak of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva.

If governments finally crack down effectively, companies such as SABMiller, Diageo Plc and Heineken NV may find Africa no longer allows the spectacular sales growth they have achieved there in recent years.

The drinks firms say Africans are better off consuming their products than popular but sometimes lethal home concoctions.

However, the effects in Worcester of drinkers rapidly consuming dangerous - sometimes even fatal - quantities of alcohol are obvious. The liquor store queue snakes past a drunken man crumpled on the ground in a pool of vomit and in the evening drinkers cram into Worcester's numerous run-down bars.   Continued...

 
Men chat as they drink beer at a sheeben (bar) in Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg August 8, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko