"Kill-the-Weekend": Social Drinking,
Drunkenness, and Temperance among
the African Middle Class
Alcohol is one of the most ancient, most commonly used, and most widely misused drugs in human society. In many societies it fulfills an important cultural role when used for recreation, celebration, ritual, or religious purposes. Equally, when misused, it can be highly destructive of individuals and of entire communities in those same societies. 1 As the following discussion demonstrates, the ambiguities and contradictions of the role of alcohol in human society are painfully exposed in the South African case. Taking Crush and Ambler volume Liquor and Labour in South Africa as a starting point, 2 this chapter will consider the ways in which the recreational use of alcohol became a site of struggle among the state, capital, and sectors of the African community in late nineteenthand early twentieth-century South Africa. It will also consider why the recreational use and abuse of alcohol became a bitter and highly politicized issue within the African community itself, especially among the African elite.
RECREATION AND SOCIAL CONTROL
As Paul la Hausse has pointed out, the brewing of alcohol has a long tradition among African peoples in Southern Africa. The most common brews were beers made from sorghum or maize which had a low alcohol content and high nutritional value and which served a range of social and cultural functions. 3 This range made these traditional brews essential substances in Bantu-speaking societies. Given the control over food supplies and female labor required to produce it, control over the production of alcohol was also a reflection of the prestige and patriarchal control of the chief, headman, or head of household who provided it for his guests. In the light of the prevalence of alcohol in Bantu-