Drink Safe. Live Safe.

A family barely copes when their young son is in a coma after being attacked by a group of young boys at a local tavern. The tavern owner loses his cool weeks afterwards when a patron runs over his daughter one night, injuring her badly. Both driver and pedestrian were drunk. These are some of the scenes from the current Soul City drama series on SABC 1 on Monday evenings at 8.30. It is part of Phuza Wize, a media campaign by the Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication. This encourages South Africans to drink and live safely.

‘€œWe are not trying to say that people shouldn’€™t drink. What we are trying to say is that there is a link between drinking and being safe and having less violence in our society. The stats that we have had access to indicate that we have seven times the global average around inter-personal violence. Inter-personal violence is the second leading cause of death amongst men, particularly between (ages) 20 ‘€“ 34 in the country and that for both fatal and non-fatal injuries, when people have been tested, they test positive for alcohol. So, we’€™re making the link between alcohol and the rate of inter-personal violence experienced in the country’€, says Aadielah Maker, Soul City’€™s Senior Executive for Social Mobilisation and the manager of the Phuza Wize campaign.

South Africans are not necessarily the worst drinkers in the world, but our drinking patterns are certainly harmful. Thus, we are encouraged to be wise and safe drinkers.

‘€œIt’€™s very clear that, in order to not cause harm, women are allowed to drink 14 drinks a week and men 28 drinks a week. But you can’€™t drink them all in one shot. You’€™re not supposed to drink in a binge way. The binge is having more than four drinks in one sitting. During the week you’€™re supposed to have alcohol-free days’€¦ not every day should be a drinking day; and you should drink slowly and with food; and alternate your drinks. People say: ‘€œBut how do you do it’€¦ We’€™re sitting and we’€™re talking and I want to have something in my hand?’€ Alternate it with water or with cool drink. That’€™s why we say to tavern owners, ‘€˜make that available’€™. And if you do that you can still have a pleasant buzz and you cannot get totally pissed and you can be safe’€, advises Dr Sue Goldstein, Soul City’€™s Chief Executive Officer.

Ignoring these tips usually has devastating consequences. According to Maker, the level of alcohol abuse in the country has increased due to how alcohol has been promoted.

 ‘€œJust like with sex and cigarettes before, alcohol is promoted as the way to socialise. It’€™s the way to be cool. If you look at now’€¦ the lead up to the World Cup’€¦ the amount of alcohol advertising that has crept into television and just everywhere around us is about creating the idea that alcohol is part of our lives. When you go to first birthday parties, all the men are getting stupidly drunk and nobody says there’€™s a problem. You have a one-year old trying to have a party with all the children around and everybody has lived with it for so long’€, she says.

It’€™s important to change what has now become the norm.

In addition to the mass media campaign, Soul City has taken Phuza Wize to shebeen and tavern owners to help them redefine their purpose.      

‘€œHistorically, shebeens and taverns served as social and recreational avenue within communities because there was nothing else. How do we get communities to understand that that is what it should be? It’€™s not a drinking hole. It’€™s not a place where we just go and we’€™re going to drink, but it’€™s about the service. But when we talk about shebeens, we have the dark, dingy hooky in mind. But it’€™s about saying let it be a space where people socialise. If I want a juice or tea, I should be able to go to my local shebeen. If I want to take my mother out for coffee, I should be able to go down to the local shebeen and feel that I can sit down there with my mother or with my children for a milk-shake because it is a social recreational space for everybody. It’€™s not just a place where you get alcohol’€, Maker says.

The exercise involves establishments in 18 communities across the country. Each has to follow a strict 10-point action plan to receive Phuza Wize accreditation, which requires the following:.      

‘€œI do not serve to minors. I do not serve to visibly pregnant women. We do not serve to drunk people. Our opening hours are X ‘€“ Y, and so on’€, explains Dr Goldstein.

‘€œWe will visibly put up a sign in places that comply. We’€™re hoping that communities will (a) know where it’€™s safe to go and drink, but (b) that they will monitor. So, if they go to a place that’€™s got a Phuza Wize sign that says, ‘€œwe do this’€, and they see children sitting in there, we will have an sms number where they can report it. It’€™s also about enabling people to say: ‘€œOK, that is the kind of place that I think I can go to’€. And we believe that that’€™s good for business. That’€™s going to improve their income rather than decrease it’€, she adds.

The Phuza Wize Campaign recognises that the use of alcohol cannot be eradicated from society. However, it’€™s important to use it and to trade in alcohol responsibly.  

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