A FAMOUS GROUSE
THIS week I learned that men in Pyongyang are issued with tokens that entitle them to two litres of free beer in the pubs every month. Women, of course, get nothing. Double rations for the chaps, then. Cheers!
Or, as they say in North Korea, “해치! 자본주의 돼지의 죽음!” For Western decadents who cannot wrap their tongues around the mother tongue of this workers’ republic, that’s “Haechi! Jabonjuui dwaejiui jug-eum!” (“Down the hatch! Death to capitalist pigs!)
For some odd reason, this bit of trivia has greatly fascinated me. They have pubs in North Korea? What do they call their version the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”)? First Glorious Beer Hall?
Having time on my hands, I did some research and was surprised to discover that the world’s most secretive society has a healthy appetite when it comes to beer.
The history is fascinating. The North Koreans got their first taste of the hop in the 1930s when their Japanese colonisers introduced them to German lagers. They took to it in a big way and, after the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948, upped domestic brewing operations in a major way.
During the 1994-98 famine, a catastrophe poetically referred to as “The Arduous March”, beer bottles were used in intravenous drips due to a shortage in proper hospital equipment. The famine claimed the lives of half a million people so there may have been more beer to go round, and the patriots no doubt stepped up to the plate when the call came to empty those bottles.
In 2000, at the behest of then leader Kim Jong-il, the state-owned Taedoggang Brewing Company bought Ushers, an ageing brewery in Trowbridge in the UK, and transported it lock, stock and smelly barrel to North Korea where it re-opened as a showcase brewery in Pyongyang in April 2002.
A micro-brewing revolution followed, and the state was soon churning out gallons of the throat charmer. In August 2016, North Korea held its first ever beer festival. The event was cancelled the following year, possibly due to drought.
All of which gives us pause for thought. Is this the sort of society that the minister of uncooperative affairs, Nkosazana Class Suicide-Zuma, has envisaged for us? A glorious utopia stuffed with breweries but with no water to make beer? And even if it could, there’d be no freebies for the women?
We should, I think, be told if this is indeed the case. But we won’t be. The government hasn’t the slightest interest in telling us anything other issuing silly instructions to bother us.
Many of the Grouse’s right wing readers will revert to their default position and claim, well, that’s just how it is with communists. But, frankly, to label the government “communist” is to insult communists everywhere. For all their faults, and there are very many, they did make a decent beer in what was Czechoslovakia. Then again, the Czechs have been brewing beer since the 12th century so that kind of institutional capacity is practically indestructible.
But not to the ANC. They could cock it up with one hand behind their backs and the other in the till. We know this from painful experience. Electricity, housing, airline, trains, roads, water, broadcasting … you name it, they’ve broken it. It is therefore not surprising that the courts have come down heavily against the government with regards to the lockdown.
North Gauteng High Court Judge Hans Fabricius, for example, was scathing in his judgment on the murder of Alexandra resident Collins Khosa by members of the SA National Defence Force and the SA Police Service.
In particular, Fabricius ruled that all people in the country during the state of national disaster are entitled to the rights to human dignity and life, and are not to be tortured, treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading manner. These rights, he emphasised, were non-derogable — even during states of emergency.
The police minister, Cheek Bile, and the defence minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, were accordingly ordered to internally investigate the treatment of any other person whose rights may have been infringed during the state of national disaster at the hands of members of the SANDF, the SAPS and/or any metro police department.
But now Bile believes he shouldn’t be compelled to do any such thing, and he is appealing this section of Fabricius’s judgment. His reasoning is that the police have a complaints mechanism in place and they have informed the public how they should report cases of police brutality.
This is not a very convincing argument. It would have been far better if Bile had just come out and said, look, Mr Judge, we can’t investigate this because we don’t know how to investigate anything. It’s above our pay grade. But if it’s the sniffing of bed linen to see if people have been locking down in the lockdown and checking receipts for illicit cigarettes, well, we’re the guys to call. We do arrests. Lots of them.
In fact, it’s been suggested that South Africa has arrested more people than any country during the lockdown. What’s more, according to the Independent Police Investigative Directive, the SAPS have killed a dozen citizens in the process. During a briefing to editors last Sunday, Cyril Ramaphosa explained it thus, “They (the police) let their enthusiasm get the better of them.”
So, if the Potemkin president is treating their deaths as the unfortunate result of some careless fooling around, why then should the police minister be bothered to mount an investigation into their killings anyway? Besides, it’s not as if the Human Rights Commission could be arsed to bother itself with the murder of citizens by agents of the state. As it is, they’re far too busy looking into the depiction on social media of Apron Strings-Zuma as a baboon.
And, speaking of the minister, it would seem that her enthusiasm for punishing smokers is getting the better of her as well. Her ban on tobacco products was pointedly ignored in the otherwise damning verdict of her lockdown regulations by Gauteng North High Court Judge Norman Davis, who ruled that many of its restrictions were unconstitutional and invalid.
Virodene-Zuma is now claiming, in another High Court matter in Pretoria, that the embargo on tobacco sales must remain as it protects human life and health, and reduces the potential strain on the healthcare system. This is according to her submission in response to an application by the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association.
She also made the claim that the ban has been effective in reducing the number of people smoking, or the amount they smoked. This is as laughable as her quaint attempt at street cred when she explained the reasons for the ban in April: “When people zol, they put saliva on the paper… And when they share that zol … they are moving saliva from one to the other.”
It’s been a boom time for the trade in illicit cigarettes, thanks to the ban. According to a University of Cape Town report, about 90 per cent of smokers are still buying cigarettes, which indicated the size of the illegal market. It added that about 16 per cent of smokers had quit during the lockdown.
I would question that figure, and suggest that 16 per cent may have stopped smoking, but they had not given up. If there are no cigarettes available, then you cannot smoke. Obvs. But how many of them will be smoking again when cigarettes are freely available?
I know from experience how difficult it is to give up. My father smoked for 30 years or so (Lucky Strike plain, since you ask) before deciding to quit one morning. It was a snap decision. He’d had enough he said, and that was that. He never lit up again. Years later, he would tell me that he hadn’t really given up; he’d just stopped. The urge for a cigarette never disappeared. The triggers were always there, the smell of fresh coffee, the rustle of a newspaper, finishing a good meal. So he learnt to live with them.
My own battle with tobacco was more difficult, and I gave up many times only to start again. Sometimes I’d quit for a year or two, and then light up once more. Then I discovered bupropion. This marvellous prescription drug was first developed as an anti-depressant and it was only during clinical trials in some sort of facility for seriously depressed people that researchers noticed that the seriously depressed people had stopped smoking. Their craving for nicotine had mysteriously vanished. There came then a bit of a rethink about bupropion’s future.
I was astounded at how easy it was to give up on the drug. So easy, in fact, that I immediately started smoking again. I gave up three times on it, the last time in August 2006. I haven’t smoked since then, and hopefully won’t start again. People might think I have a bupropion habit.
There are sadly no drugs though that will cure us of our bad government habit. Which is a pity. The beer may help, but then only as a temporary measure.
Lastly, and to end on an especially cheery note, I also learnt this week that the fatal risk of Covid-19 doubles every six or seven years in age. Data from England and Wales up to May 1 suggests a population fatality rate as follows: Up to age 14 — a one in 5 337 266 chance of dying; 15 to 24 — one in 279 550; 25 to 44 — one in 44 423; 45 to 64 — one in 4 388; 65 to 74 — one in 1 143; 75 to 90 — one in 225; and older than 90 — one in 81. My source for this is Private Eye. Their reporting on the pandemic, by “MD”, an anonymous doctor, is probably the most reliable in the UK.
MD’s advice? Stay as healthy as possible. About 95 per cent of those dying from Covid-19 in hospital have underlying health conditions. Dementia, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, kidney, heart and lung diseases were all associated with substantial increases in coronavirus deaths.
About 80 per cent of chronic diseases that kill people prematurely could be prevented by a healthy lifestyle. The UK government, like the South African one, has missed a golden opportunity here while it had our attention, MD writes.
“Eat well, avoid sugar, be physically active, manage your mental health, sleep well. Instead, [Downing Street] became absorbed in a single health risk to the exclusion of others. Imprisoning children in the passive smoke of their relatives, eating sugary shite, not moving from their screens, and spreading virus around the house is a recipe for disaster.”
It would have been of far more use, MD adds, if the health secretary Matt Hancock were to serve salad and sleeping tips in a leotard than continue with his “vacuous and inaccurate press briefings”.
Perhaps. But are South Africans ready for Leotard-Zuma just yet? I think not.