Nighttime story heralds havoc

It is around 9pm, the aroma of braai (BBQ) consumes the atmosphere. Two teenage girls, barely eighteen and visibly under the influence of alcohol gyrate to the music of Andy Muridzo, blaring from the disco at a popular night spot in the relatively affluent Hatfield neighbourhood of Harare. The girls have come from the populous high-density township of Chitungwiza.

This night spot, infamous for debauchery and attracting girls as young as they are, is their favourite weekend hangout. Here they access “free” alcohol and money from “generous” patrons far from prying eyes of family and neighbours. By day they are children, by night the hunt starts for things that come freely and at a cost not always acknowledged.

Competition for attention of the patrons, mostly males – some old enough to be their fathers – is stiff, no pun intended. Those men don’t offer freebies for nothing. After one or two drinks is when the action starts. The minors become “fair game”, one after the other.

When the night heats up, one of the girls informs her friend she has found a catch for the night, a burly man driving a second hand ex Japanese Toyota. He drags her by the waist, staggering, green bottle of beer in one hand as they leave the night spot.

Residents in this usually quiet neighbourhood complain that besides the noise, the night spot has become a major source of crime, juvenile delinquency and sexual promiscuity and beg the authorities to act on the escalating decadence as a result of the sprouting of outlets similar to this one.

Alcohol availability fuels harm

Across Zimbabwe, the scenario highlighted above, has become commonplace with full supply of alcohol, legal and otherwise, in abundance.

The majority of outlets and individuals selling alcohol in Zimbabwe pay little regard to the country’s liquor licensing act. Young people are free to imbibe as they want as long they can afford or someone is paying. They are allowed inside premises selling alcohol despite being below eighteen, the legal age of majority.

The deferred dreams and unmet social expectations in an environment characterised by high unemployment and diminishing economic opportunities is a factor cited by many of the young people I spoke to that is putting pressure on them to consume alcohol.

More than 60% of Zimbabwe’s population is under 35 years of age and most of them live either in high-density areas or rural areas of the country. The nearest recreational facilities which everyone living here can reach with least effort is the bar, and they are ubiquitous.

There are increasing reports of spoiled teenagers buoyed by contrived financial freedom, and at times absentee parents, hosting house parties where recklessness reigns supreme as intoxication and sexual promiscuity are celebrated increasing the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

Deliberate inaction

Other people I spoke to are of the opinion that the authorities are deliberately turning a blind eye to the proliferation of both legal and illegal alcohol outlets in an attempt to shock absorb the frustration and discontent resulting from the increasing economic hardships.

Cheap illicit spirits like Musombodhiya that go for as little as $1 for a 375ml bottle have flooded the streets, they are the preferred poison by the struggling majority as it quickly numbs their senses into oblivion, destroying the need to act and engage in any meaningful economic, social or civic activities.

Tafadzwa Goliati of the Passengers Association of Zimbabwe (PAZ) told me how alcohol fueled violence is now prevalent at commuter omnibus ranks as a result of cheap illicit spirits openly sold there and legal alcohol outlets located near the ranks.

He explained:

The ranks have become sites of abuse targeted at the commuting public, mostly women, by the inebriated rank marshals and touts.

Passengers’ lives are being put at risk by some of the drivers who are in the habit of consuming the illicit spirits before driving.”

A study, “Culture and choice: lessons from survivors of gender violence in Zimbabwe” found that consumption of alcohol was often involved in cases of domestic violence. According to the police, more than 1,000 people die in alcohol-related accidents every year. A further 3,000 sustain minor to serious injuries due to alcohol consumption.

Urgent need for change

Alcohol havoc is visible anywhere. Action is needed now or the savage tide of alcohol harm will come crashing through as projected by a paper published in 2002 titled Drug Use, Abuse and Alcoholism in Zimbabwe”. The paper projected that by 2022, five years from now, alcoholism will be Zimbabwe’s number one social problem.

In order to avoid the impending disaster, an evidence-based, and public health-centered alcohol policy free from vested commercial interests needs to be enacted without delay in Zimbabwe.

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