Musician Kabelo Mabalane is the face of aware.org’s new Underage Drinking Campaign which was launched recently in Johannesburg.
“I felt it was important to lend my voice to this important issue because of my own issues with alcohol and my role as a parent of growing children,” he says. “I realised the importance for us as a society to be extremely vigilant, especially caregivers. Over the years, I’ve been invited to several interventions and when I point out to parents that they are enabling their children’s behaviour, the realisation is shocking for them,” he says.
With its new Underage Drinking Awareness Campaign, supported by in-depth research conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and a comprehensive integrated marketing campaign, aware.org is changing the way child alcohol abuse is tackled.
The campaign is built on the insight that people’s first exposure to alcohol is usually at a young age and enabled by parents and other caregivers. It hinges on a hard-hitting television commercial supported by digital, above the line and public relations efforts, with the tagline ‘Underage drinking, starts long before it begins. You can stop it.’. Using a dedicated hashtag #myfirstdrinkstory, the public will also be encouraged to share their own stories of being introduced to alcohol on social media.
“When the light bulb finally goes off, I believe people will start thinking very differently about their behaviour and we can finally curb this crisis,” he says.
Mabalane, who is now 17 years sober, recently revealed his struggles with alcohol and substance addiction in his memoir ‘I Ran For My Life: My Story’. A main member of the superstar Kwaito group TKZee, he became consumed by the excesses of the entertainment world.
He started his recovery journey in 2002 and has gone on to forge a new life with numerous ventures in television, music and wellness programmes.
Although his first drink was at the legal age of 18, Kabelo’s journey to start drinking began much earlier in life.
“I remember taking walks as a 10-year-old boy to buy my grandmother drinks when she would sit with her friends and they were thirsty. She was a strong woman, the pillar of the family and I loved her,” he says. “The memory of her happy laughter still echoes in my mind, but I have also seen how negatively alcohol affected my own father, which saddens me. However, at 16 years-old I remember seeing my friend and his father have a healthier relationship with alcohol as they drink together. I thought to myself that alcohol in itself is not bad.”
At 18, after passing matric he felt he could finally let loose and celebrate. By this time, he had developed a circle of friends who made drinking more acceptable, creating an enabling environment to drink even though he was able to withstand the temptation to drink up to that point.
“I finally make the choice to drink and I felt liberated, but I didn’t realise the harm that drinking would bring into my life,” he says. “I eventually had to make a complete change in my thinking when I got sober.
“Some people might have a healthy relationship with alcohol, but I learnt that drinking becomes abusive when the negatives outweigh the positives. Underage drinking in itself is alcohol abuse because a person’s brain is only developed after the mid-twenties and drinking before then undoubtedly has more negative consequences than positive,” he says.