Consumption of alcoholic beverages has been a contentious topic in America (read South Africa) since the colonial period. In May 1657, the General Court of Massachusetts made the sale of strong liquor “whether known by the name of rum, whisky, wine, brandy, etc.” to the Indians illegal. Many people have compared South Africa’s prohibition to the US’s famous, decade-long crackdown which began in 1920 in response to campaigning by religious and moral groups and was immortalised by Hollywood in films like “Some Like It Hot and The Untouchables.” As with Chicago’s notorious gangster, Al Capone, there are concerns that the alcohol ban could push the sector here into the hands of criminals who already control a lucrative chunk of South Africa’s cigarette industry. And so they should be because nothing provided the Italian mafia with as big an opportunity for making easy money than the prohibition of alcohol. Arguably, the boost the mafia received was so far-reaching; its effects are still felt in America almost 2 generations later.

“The longer the lockdown goes on, the more criminal networks will be able to entrench their ability to sell and distribute alcohol,” confirmed Gareth Newham, a crime expert at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies, warning that the government was already losing a fortune in taxation because of the ban.

The Volstead Act came into force in the US on January 17th 1920, forbidding Americans to buy or sell alcoholic drinks, and it remained in force until 1933. The puritan core of America was solidly behind it, expressed through such institutions as the Anti-Saloon League and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. It was not mere puritanism, however; Americans, in general, were drinking too much, and a vast amount of hard-earned money was squandered in the saloons (pubs, in our language) while working-class families almost starved. As is well known, Prohibition brought a new sub-culture of bootleggers, speakeasies and toxic home-distilled alcohol in which respect for the law was eroded, and arguably did not recover in decades. Needless to say, the ending of this long dry spell was celebrated by an orgy of drinking, most of it good-humoured.

In South Africa, it isn’t so clear cut as the ANC government is objectively Christian, neither puritanical in philosophy and outlook. One can only surmise it is the age-old issue of alcohol, and the natives rearing its head in a new dispensation in South Africa. In other words, the reason why the natives are disobedient is that they have access to alcohol. Of course, this crazy pathology ignores the fact that it is other natives imposing their will on the natives, after all, South Africa hasn’t had a white-run government in almost a quarter of a century now,

So here’s the trajectory of all alcohol bans in the world, regardless of whether there is a life-threatening contagion doing the rounds because the populace merely interprets bans as an infringement of their natural rights of choice as human beings.  

“Following the ban, criminal gangs gained control of the beer and liquor supply in many cities. By the late 1920s, a new opposition to prohibition emerged nationwide. Critics attacked the policy as causing crime, lowering local revenues, and imposing “rural” Protestant religious values on “urban” America. Prohibition ended with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment on December 5, 1933, though prohibition continued in some states. To date, this is the only time in American history in which a constitutional amendment was passed to repeal another.”

“By 1925, there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs (think of taverns in the South African context), in New York City alone. Wet opposition talked of personal liberty, new tax revenues from legal beer and liquor, and the scourge of organized crime.”

“Some research indicates that alcohol consumption declined substantially due to Prohibition. Rates of liver cirrhosis, alcoholic psychosis, and infant mortality also declined. Prohibition’s effect on rates of crime and violence is disputed. Despite this, it lost supporters every year it was in action and lowered government tax revenues at a critical time before and during the Great Depression.”

So what’s the “moral of the story” here? Well, I can only surmise that few governments learn from history or for that matter their history. In the case of a black South African government, few if any of the politicians have learnt that prohibiting the population from their own “natural choices” didn’t work during Apartheid and there’s no compelling reason why it should work now. Thus the eternal problem people around the world face with politicians, which is analogous to putting a prison warden in charge of free people, the results are never going to be pretty?

Compiled from multiple sources.