Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has called on South Africans to get more exercise and live a healthy lifestyle. He's also declared war on just about everything that affects your health: alcohol advertising, salt levels in food, mothers who don't breastfeed, the bad attitude of doctors and nurses. As he proudly told a World Health Organisation conference this week, "If saving our people earns us a title of being a nanny [state], I very much welcome that title". This is what the news reports from the near future could look like if Motsoaledi has his way.
South Africa’s newly-formed Healthy Lifestyle Police (HELP) raided government clinics in Pretoria on Wednesday morning, arresting 22 mothers who refused to breast-feed their children. They also arrested their infant children.
Bottles containing baby formula were seized by the HELP and later destroyed in an incinerator supplied by the World Health Organisation (WHO?).
The mothers and infants were held in swoops on four state-run clinics in the Pretoria CBD. Most of them had been waiting in queues for several hours, and complained that they would have been out of the clinic by the time HELP arrived if nurses’ service levels were not so low.
They are being held at the recently-completed Aaron Motsoaledi Healthy Lifestyle Centre in Ga-Rankuwa outside Pretoria, where they will attend compulsory re-education courses.
Due to overcrowding, the mothers were initially held in a wing reserved for public sector doctors and nurses, who are undergoing “attitude change” workshops run personally by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi in an attempt to improve service delivery levels in hospitals ‚Äì but they were later moved to the “Breast is Best” wing, which is equipped with infant cots and breastfeeding booths.
Whilst today’s raids were taking place, roadblocks were also set up to prevent trucks carrying new supplies of baby formula from entering state hospitals and clinics in Gauteng.
“We are cracking down on all fronts,” a HELP spokeswoman said. “We cannot condone the use of this dangerous white powder.”
At least three Nestle trucks were turned away from clinics in Tembisa, Diepsloot and Sebokeng according to a spokesman for the producers of the baby formula, and were diverted to nearby private clinics. Ironically, lactating mothers who attended these clinics were still able to purchase stock under the new state-funded National Health Insurance scheme.
“We admit there is a bit of a contradiction in this, but as the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci said, ‘without contradictions there is no development’,” Nestle said in a media statement.
Later in the day, HELP also issued a warning to South African businesses that it is to start search-and-execute operations on companies which have not built breastfeeding booths for staff.
“We are concerned that companies are merely converting old smoking rooms, which were outlawed last year, into breastfeeding booths. This is not acceptable, and we intend to come down hard on businesses that fail to comply,” HELP said.
“We would like to remind employers of their responsibilities: they must run educational campaigns to encourage their employees to breastfeed, and must provide facilities for the expression and storage of breast milk. There is no other way.”
Today’s raids and roadblocks mark the first high-profile HELP activity since its highly-criticised raids on taverns in Kimberley last month. There was an outcry from tavern owners, and their regulars, who had to stand by and watch as the HELP tore down doors and signage advertising alcohol, leaving millions of rands worth of stock exposed.
Twenty tavern owners in the area have laid charges of abuse of power with the Office of the Public Protector, arguing that implementation of the ban on alcohol advertising is not only harming their business but also enabling under-age youth to easily access alcohol through exposed tavern entrances.
“These guys say they are acting in the best interests of the youth, but the youth are the first ones in, once the HELP tears the doors off their hinges and pulls down the advertising boards. They really don’t know what they’re unleashing,” said Galeshewe Tavern Owners Association spokesperson Sandy “Double Tot” Peterson.
“It’s like the Prohibition era with all these new restrictions, and all that’s happened is that drinking has gone underground. People buy even more they used to ‚Äì they’re still thirsty, and they still like drinking alcohol, whether there’s advertising or no advertising. And banning advertising has made it illicit, and you know how people love doing illicit things.
“We’ve always argued that Government should educate rather than regulate: teach people why they shouldn’t drink, rather than think that if you hide it people will stop looking.”
Homeless people in the area have welcomed the tavern raids, however, as they have been able to use the confiscated hoardings to build new shacks. Several massive roadside billboards have also been utilised for roofing and walls, triggering the formation of a large new squatter camp, peppered with confiscated Peroni umbrellas, on the southern perimeter of Kimberley’s famous big hole.
Residents have dubbed the area “Motsoalediville”.
Meanwhile, there are moves afoot by the South African Fast Food Association to challenge government’s ban on the public use of salt cellars in restaurants, with the association pledging to take the matter to the Constitutional Court.
“First we had to deal with the ban on smoking. Then it was the ban on alcohol advertising and a phalanx of new regulations around who can drink where and when. But this ban on the use of salt cellars in public is ridiculous,” said SAFFA chairman Samson “Hotwingzz” Bapela.
“Choosing your salt level causes endless delays and confusion. Now, it’s not only whether you want mild, medium or hot, or lemon butter or spicy ‚Äì you also have to choose unsalted, lightly salted or salty.
“Imagine the chaos when we get things wrong. We’ve had customers complaining that their food that isn’t salty enough. But there’s nothing we can do, except to ask them to apply more salt in the privacy of their homes.” DM
iMaverick columnist Gareth Cliff has been charged under section 29.9 of the new Healthy Nation Act, dubbed somewhat mischieviously the “nanny state act”, for “inflammatory remarks”. This follows a Twitter message he posted commenting on the new legislation in which he stated: “Does Aaron Motsoaledi really think banning the advertising of alcohol will help? Sex seems popular despite a paucity of billboards…”. This was followed by “I’ve never seen a billboard advertising cocaine either..” Cliff faces a one-year jail term if found guilty.
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