Liquor Can Build Society

A couple of weeks back South Africa and the rest of the world celebrated the festive season. Malls were packed, beaches in popular cities were overcrowded and bars made a killing selling liqour. For rural Eastern Cape the weddings and initiation ceremonies that took place this time of the year owe their success to the traditions dependent on liquor.

Seems as though everywhere one goes a Church (or Temple and Mosque), Coca Cola and Alcohol will be found. This is as true for Manhattan as it is for the Australian Outback. From the days of Noah’s potent wine, to Jesus making wine and pleasing wedding guests, to the more recent 1800s spirits that include, whiskey, brandy and vodka, it’s evident that liquor is an integral part of human existence.

South Africa though has a special relationship with liquor. Not only do we as a nation just consume alcohol, it also seems to tell a story of what is currently happening in the country if one looks deep enough. The nation’s triumphs and problems can be told by a story relating to alcohol. This is a story of black diamonds, women abuse, marketing and socio-economic status.

As the worlds 5th largest whiskey (mainly Scotch) consumers, one would believe that the  South African economy would at least be amongst the largest globally. The rise of the economically active black person has seen South Africa import several luxury goods such as designer clothes and whiskey. Sadly, there is another part of society that can only consume  traditional sorghum beer. In price comparisons a litre of sorghum would set one b ack about R5 while a double Scotch will cost you about R35. The most obvious of conclusions arises: “What an unequal society!”

South Africa also boasts a proud heritage of female beer drinkers. As part of our history, Soweto women have at a certain stage consumed more SAB beer than all of South Africa combined. This tells a story of how central beer has been in the lives of disadvantaged women across the country. The relationship is not only one of consumption but also one of economic survival. Taverns and shebeens have been a life line to the women who own them. The Cape wine farms also tell the story of South African women (mainly coloured)  working in vineyards and consuming large amounts of alcohol. Even traditionaly, (in Xhosa and Zulu culture) women are the brewers of beer. Although seen as a masculine product, women have played a pivotal role in beer production.

The marketing of liquor has been a hit and miss game. The campaigns that best resembled the truth in society found quick success and brand loyalty whilst those that were abstract  were less succesful. For example Black Label beer has been marketed to the blue clollar worker, celebrating masculinity and success. These adverts have appealed to miners and sorghum drinkers alike. The former can relate to the advert while the latter still aspires to the dream of being economicaly active.  Success was seen in the increased volumes.

Castle Lager adverts in the 1990s were less successful. These  depicted a politicaly correct group of friends on holiday on a New York roof top. They completely missed the point. As a result it became  less popular beer  until they associated it with the success of South African sports.

Some economists look at house prices to determine the trends in economic activity and inflation. Climatologists look at sun spots to determine the type of climate the season shall bring. I believe that social commentanters and politicians should follow the trends of liquor consumption as it is always in sync with the “streets” and the masses.

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