Opinionista Siya Khumalo 14 April 2020

The political case for banning the sale of chocolate during lockdown

Is this going to be satire? It’ll be no more absurd than the rationale behind some lockdown regulations. Before we get to the political implications of the tension between individual liberty and state control, we’re going to look at the logic behind the distinction of ‘essential’ from ‘non-essential’ as it applies to chocolate.

Caffeine and sugar have addictive and immunosuppressant properties. Caffeine aggravates the stress responses, plays havoc with blood sugar levels and cholesterol, and in a country with a high prevalence of lifestyle-related disease it’s irresponsible to tempt sedentary citizens (no running allowed, remember?) with foods that aggravate diabetes and blood pressure. Let’s not forget that hospital beds are needed for coronavirus patients.

It’s also been said that alcohol causes people to forget about physical distancing. It could as easily be said that chocolate is an aphrodisiac. The real issue is quantity, not availability, and as explained in a previous article, the arguments advanced for the ban on alcohol and cigarette sales don’t square with the purpose of disaster management except to leave the door open to a draconian future.

We recently created a sugar tax paralleling the “sin tax” on now-banned substances, and one can’t make the tax revenue argument in defence of the one product without availing it to the other. Arbitrary cherry-picking undermines rationality in the rule of law.  

Furthermore, the food-secure may have to halve what they eat or donate their income because for the lockdown to work for as long as it may last — possibly beyond the pandemic’s expected peak in September — food redistribution or rationing can’t be optional. 

The government won’t sustainably keep the poorer half this country sheltered, fed and watered, even if they can find enough money to do so, because they don’t have the coordination capacity to prevent serious leakage (read: theft) along the value chain. 

Chronically hungry people tend to be susceptible to all sorts of opportunistic diseases, so the sermon that everyone will have to “make sacrifices” means the distinct possibility that some people should commit suicide now or die slow, harrowing deaths alone — unless we share what we have through a citizen-led initiative into which a critical mass of us can buy. 

A ban on alcohol or any food substance is our assent to letting the government solve the whole problem on its own terms. Availing chocolate to cash-flush consumers while there’s a struggle to get enough food, shelter and medicine to everyone will then present an ethical dilemma for the state, a dilemma only avoidable through citizen-led ingenuity and innovation now

I trust Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize’s wisdom on the science of pandemic containment, but that wisdom is diluted if we leave the socio-economic aspect of it to his colleagues in a government that doesn’t live in the real South Africa. 

We, the people, have to lead our government on the socio-economic aspects of flattening the curve on our terms. We won’t have the resources to fund that as long as government unilaterally dictates which economic activity should be constrained. These discussions are held behind closed doors and then incontestably announced at press briefings.

The alcohol ban takes a sledgehammer to complex social problems that NGOs and activists have repeatedly raised with a government that is often hard of hearing. As human rights activist Luke Waltham puts it, “Both government and universities use alcohol as the cop-out for gender-based violence. When are we actually going to tackle the true problem which is toxic masculinity?  Yes, toxic masculinity fuelled by alcohol makes violent men more violent, but the truth of the matter is that toxic masculinity is the area that we need to tackle in our families, homes, communities and spaces first and foremost.”  

I submit the ban is Police Minister Bheki Cele’s toxic masculinity scapegoating substance use and abuse: the problem (patriarchy) prescribes the solution (the ban) and therefore perpetuates a sanctimonious version of itself through that solution. 

Who or what scapegoat will be used next to cover the sins of exactly the kind of Big Man masculinity Cele now presents as protective and benevolent? It was toxic masculinity and its love of scapegoats that took us down the slippery slope of political unaccountability.  The scapegoats for this relentless robbery have been apartheid, colonialism, “clever blacks”, counterrevolutionary global imperialist elements, CIA spies and so on.

When a Big Man like Cele can present “disobedience” as the problem and heavy-handed repression as the solution, it sets a precedent for disobedience, (however defined). Once alcohol availability is believed to stand in the way of the Covid-19 response, the logical threshold for imputing blame ceases to be rational and proportional. Constitutionalism is undermined and any “disobedient” person (read: honest, inconvenient, questioning) becomes the reason for government’s failures.

In the narrative that our leaders can do no wrong, it’s the people who have to leave their homes to wash their hands at far-off taps that become criminals, not the officials who handed out poorly planned contracts for water services to their corrupt friends.

Judge poorly in one instance, and it rips across everything. DM

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or if you are already an Insider.

Covid-19 150 Days report – (Part 3)

Almost 1000 days since Ramaphosa took office, and his kitchen cabinets are cutting up rough

By Ferial Haffajee