“In 1980 Candy Lightner’s twelve-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunk driver – a repeat offender. Brought to trial, the driver was reprimanded and released.
“In her 1990 memoir, Giving Sorrow Words she wrote: “I promised myself on the day of Cari’s death that I would fight to make this needless homicide count for something positive in the years ahead.”
“Lightner was certainly not the first mother to be outraged about lenient drunk-driving laws that returned chronic drunks to the streets. Even in 1980, when her daughter was killed, the statistics were well known and widely publicized. Drunk driving was the major cause of traffic fatalities in North America. In fact, it remains the single largest criminal cause death in Canada, where approximately 1,500 people are killed each year as a result of impaired driving, a number about three times higher than the country’s murder rate. The situation is worse in the United States.
“Following her daughter’s death, Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
“It has been said that nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come. It is clear that the time was right for Lightner’s initiative. The fledgling organization that she founded took wing on currents that bore it upward.”
In today’s City Press, Mphonyane Mofokeng, chair of the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance wrote about a new government initiative to combat alcohol abuse:
“Binge drinking is the norm in South Africa. A recent WHO report rates this country fourth on the list of places with the riskiest drinking. The report says 16% of the alcohol consumers in the country are heavy drinkers, and 41.2% of them are women.
“Research indicates 12% of people start drinking at the age of 13… Young adults were also the most common victims of fatal violence.”
“The state ultimately shoulders the responsibility of this drinking behaviour.”
“It is not about the state playing nanny. If there is no direct intervention to curb easy access to and the excessive use of alcohol, South Africa’s young population will feel the impact for generations to come.”
These are not the words of a white, older, foreign male. They were written by a younger, black, South African woman. In fact, another even younger South African woman - named Zodwa Ntuli - has been appointed to lead government’s drive to tighten alcohol regulations in line with international standards. One measure is to increase the legal age for consumption - from 18 to 21.
“Substance abuse is a massive problem and liquor, unlike most drugs, is readily and easily available. When kids start experimenting, they start with alcohol because it’s available.
“We’re not becoming a nanny state. We are responding to real issues that affect everyone at work, in communities and in families.”
Over the past decade, I have written passionately about other social evils in South Africa, such as:
- Government failure to roll out ARV distribution (C4L protested to the Global Fund in Geneva, and SANAC had to redress its distorted allocation of resources)
- Mpumalanga murders that started in 1998 (C4L did a poster campaign in mid-2011 and there has not been another whistle-blower shot in any January since 2011)
- Triumphalism, corruption and waste
- Inequality and unemployment especially among Mpumalanga youth
To sum up - as a social innovator myself (like Candy Lightner) - I know a social evil when I see one.
So both C4L programming and its Bulletins (like this one) are going to echo this theme more in the coming months. I am not in favour of affirmative action in its BEE form, but I would like to see another kind of affirmative action – in favour of the families and loved ones who get hurt because of alcohol abuse. Zero tolerance of drinking and driving is needed to reduce the number of road fatalities. Also, domestic abuse is so often linked to alcoholism. Let’s stop blaming the victims and make the perpetrators answer for their crimes.
For some of you, this may seem like déjà vu. But especially among youth in South Africa, there is need for awareness raising and behaviour change.
Back to Candy Lightner in closing:
“The goal of MADD was to reduce drunk-driving traffic fatalities and the proportion of traffic fatalities that are alcohol related has dropped 40 percent over the last quarter-century. Most observers give substantial credit for that decline to the efforts of MADD.
Since its start in 1980, more than 2,300 anti-drunk-driving laws have been passed.
In a 1994 study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, MADD was the most popular non-profit cause in the United States, ranked second among the most strongly supported charities and third on the most credible list.
“Eight years after she had founded it, she left the organization in a widely publicized display of anger. She left because MADD changed its goal, becoming far more prohibitionist than she wanted or supported. “I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol,” she said. “I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.”