Drinking can be orderly

18 Sep, 2022 - 00:09 0 Views
Drinking can be orderly

The Sunday Mail

The social problems of drinking in public places such as shopping centres, in cars and in public open spaces are easily apparent to those who live near such places or who have to pass through them as the drinkers build up in number and drunkenness.

But the problem is a compound of several problems and there needs to be several solutions, not just one or two.

We must realise that Zimbabwe does not have prohibition, and that it is legal to buy and consume alcoholic drinks, although the places and times of that buying and consumption can be regulated. In theory, everyone has to drink in enclosed premises, even an enclosed bar garden, or at home and that there are opening and closing times for licensed premises.

It is not even an offence in itself to be drunk unless you are driving, but there are general laws about objectionable behaviour that apply to drunks and non-drunks alike. A person drunk, but orderly can stagger down the side of the road quite legally.

The major complaint, as our Society section so vividly records, are the vast numbers of people, mainly men, who congregate in and around shopping centres and drink in public, insulting passers-by, being objectionable to women and making a lot of noise. They mostly buy their beer and alcohol in supermarkets and bottle stores, then sit around in the open consuming it in large noisy groups.

A fair number drives to certain shopping centres and park, often badly, and block roads and entrances. They drink in their cars or next to their cars.

While at 11am there might just be the odd determined drinker, by late afternoon and evening on weekdays, numbers can be large, especially Friday nights, and at the weekend, the public drinking can be quite serious all day and night.

Way back, the problem was limited. Alcohol could only be bought in bottle stores and later supermarkets, which had to close at 5pm, or in hotels, clubs, restaurants, nightclubs, beer halls and beer gardens. This meant that alcohol in the evenings just had to be consumed in some licensed premises or at home.

Public drinking was banned, and it was difficult to buy alcoholic beverages for public drinking at night, so enforcement was easy.

Even shebeens, created by race laws giving municipalities monopolies for drinking in the high-density suburbs, were part of the respectable system, since patrons needed to drink indoors to prevent a raid.

Enforcement was easy. There was a modest deposit fine for most, although the seriously unruly had a night in the cells to sober down. But the 5pm ban on stores selling booze meant there were no large numbers except at weekends, and a raid and spot fines fixed that. You still had groups singing on the streets after the bars closed, and some sanitation issues, but these were not serious.

The problem arose after some sensible legal changes. Supermarkets and bottle stores could stay open longer and open on weekends. If buyers were just grabbing a six-pack to take home, this would not have been a problem, but some wanted to drink there and then. More critically, the police largely stopped enforcing the public drinking laws.

Another and more sensible post-independence change was for licensing authorities to allow what were called ‘sports bars’ to open and a lot more legal nightclubs were licensed, although with sound proofing of musical clubs in residential areas in those days of enforcement of planning regulations.

But all along, these legal and enclosed drinking areas had proper toilets, whether in north Mbare or Borrowdale, and bar owners were expected to keep order or lose their licence.

Coupled with the longer bottle store opening hours was the financial aspect. A beer in a shop or bottle store is cheaper than a beer in a bar, even a downmarket bar, and the shops and bottle stores could stay open all day at weekends and deep into the night seven days a week. So, with not much enforcement and late night cheap booze, the obvious happened and this is what we are living with.

So, the solution appears to be threefold. We need to get drinkers back into enclosed premises. These can still have outdoor facilities; some posh hotels have garden bars. But the enclosed licensed premises mean that others do not have to mix with drinkers when going about their normal business and bar owners must enforce order. We can even license more if there is demand.

Secondly, we have to remove late night retail sales and then enforce the public drinking bans on what will now be a small number. If you want to drink and socialise with friends, find a bar or arrange a private party. Bottle store owners will object. One solution is to close them and the liquor shelves in shops early. The other is to get them to put in the required facilities to have a bar licence.

This can be debated, especially about noise and standards, but it is not impossible to work out. What cannot be on the table is any suggestion that a bottle store can effectively run a de facto bar on the pavement or in the car park. They can have a real bar with toilets and enclosed areas or close early.

Thirdly, drivers can be forced to be orderly when they park, and the drinking and driving laws enforced in any case.

There are laws on parking, like not blocking roads or driveways or creating an obstruction, so once again we need enforcement.

The demand, especially in residential areas, for a lot more order is growing. It can be done.

Encouraging orderly legal bars backed by law enforcement, and even withdrawal of licences from those who abuse them, will work. It just needs the will.

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