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Getting South African teenagers doing, not drinking

SAB’s You Decide initiative is helping to change attitudes to alcohol among South African teenagers

The South African Breweries (SAB), our South African operation, is tackling underage drinking through a powerful face-to-face programme called You Decide that gets teenagers thinking about the issue.

You Decide is a joint initiative of SAB, the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA).

Its centrepiece is a roadshow that tours schools, with youth theatre actors performing a hard-hitting, scripted production. The roadshow is run in conjunction with workshops that use educational material, developed by experts in the field, and targets the teenagers as well as parents and teachers.

By March 2014 the campaign had reached 877 schools and almost half a million students. One of those was Kenny Xaba, who had already been experimenting with alcohol before You Decide came to his school. He revealed: “I wanted to stop but I didn’t know how. You Decide helped me to get my life together; making me realise I had to do something good with myself to keep my legacy alive. It’s true to say that if it wasn’t for You Decide I wouldn’t have stopped drinking.”

Recognising the role that adults play in guiding youth behaviour, the campaign also runs workshops in the wider community, including taverns, and a version of the theatre production is performed around the country’s many taxi ranks.

You Decide also makes full use of social media. Its Facebook page had amassed almost 22,000 ‘likes’ by early April 2014. Such is the power of the campaign’s social media appeal, it achieved the highest number of hits recorded by the South African messaging app Mxit in December 2013.

Changing attitudes and behaviours in this way takes time and commitment, but You Decide now has some serious momentum behind it, encouraging young South Africans to set aside any temptation to drink and just #DoStuff instead.

It’s too early to measure the net results of all this activity on national underage drinking behaviour, but early indications from an initial, independent benchmarking exercise in key communities touched by the programme are encouraging. These showed that more than 8% of teens who had been drinking prior to the programme reported that they had stopped drinking, and there was an 82% drop in reported weekday consumption by teenage drinkers and a 73% drop in reported weekend consumption.

Real lives

Nkosana Banda has ambitions to work as a civil rights lawyer; Ndimphiwe Lwandle wants a career as a sports agent or lawyer; Thobile Phantshi aims to qualify as a pilot; while Chriszelda Booysen and Tayla Tomlinson both dream of becoming actresses.

All five are in their teens and, on the surface, their aspirations are fairly typical of that age group. But the hopes and fears of these youthful stars of the reality TV series Future Leaders go far deeper than that; they are playing an important – and high-profile – part in encouraging young South Africans to avoid the dangers of underage drinking.

Viewers tuning in to watch Future Leaders on South Africa’s SABC 1 channel will spot the branding of the programme’s creator and sponsor, You Decide.

Nkosana, Ndimphiwe, Thobile, Chriszelda and Tayla have all experimented with alcohol in the past and have seen for themselves the devastation underage drinking can cause in their communities. Having turned their backs on temptation, the 13‑part series tracks their efforts to become role models for their peers.

Among their mentors on the show is the media commentator and TV presenter Khaya Dlanga. Speaking about the experience, he told the Independent Online: “We’re trying to get them to redirect their energies and efforts into something positive. If you give someone an activity to do, something meaningful, they are less likely to be destructive to themselves and their communities.”

Backing Future Leaders marks a significant extension of You Decide’s reach, giving the initiative a national profile after a successful rollout in five provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Mpumalanga, Free State and Eastern Cape).


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