Drunk and disorderly in Grahamstown

By Tarryn Ross

Pics supplied

One very normal Saturday night, first year student, Lloyd Le Roux, ventured out for a night on the town with his best friend. In the interest of being social they had a few drinks and, after a great party at the Rat & Parrot, they decided to make their way to Friar Tucks. During this time, Le Roux’s friend started shouting at a car-guard. Le Roux decided to intervene and, according to Le Roux himself, “shouted at [his friend] to just leave the guard alone. Except it came out in a louder and more aggressive tone. Unluckily for me, the police van drove past at that moment and thought I was causing trouble. I ended up sleeping in a cell for four or five hours. I just hoped I wasn’t going to be in there for long.” In the morning Le Roux woke up, having been charged with being drunk and disorderly on the streets of Grahamstown.

Rhodes students have always been renowned for their parties and have established the reputation for Rhodes as a “drinking university”. Facebook is adorned with groups such as “I am a Rhodent, therefore I can out-drink you”, and “Send your kids to Rhodes”, which photographically document the drunken escapades of students. However, students haven’t always managed to escape the force of the law. There have been several occasions when the local police have arrested students walking drunkenly on the streets in a less than orderly fashion. But what exactly constitutes being drunk and disorderly? And why are students mostly the culprits?

According to local police, making excessive noise, public indecency and stumbling around dangerously on the roads whilst intoxicated are reasons enough to charge someone with drunk and disorderly behaviour. However, the Eastern Cape Liquor Act of 2003 states that a person must be both drunk and disorderly before they can be arrested. Police can no longer arrest a civilian on the grounds of being drunk in public. Today this is seen as wrongly taking away a person’s freedom. Once the police have proved their suspect to be both intoxicated and misbehaving, they may lawfully detain them for up to four hours in a holding cell, this in an attempt to ‘sober them up’. This might not be such a bad thing for an intoxicated student, as the holding cell at least ensures safety for the guilty party. Whereas the student could be stumbling home unprotected and in a vulnerable state. At least detaining them provides a safe place away from potential harm. In a country where crime statistics continue to shock us daily, perhaps being locked up for a while is far better than becoming a victim of crime. It was found by the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS) that, “approximately 50 percent of people who had died of unnatural causes had tested positive for alcohol.”

As students, we are at an age where we have new-found freedom and naturally want to experiment. Drinking forms a big part of this declaration of freedom and this seems to be the greatest reason why students often find themselves in hot water with the law. A survey regarding the abuse of alcohol on South African campuses, conducted by Charles Young and the Dean of Students, Dr Vivian De Klerk, reports that students start drinking after they find they “have the opportunity to test the limits previously set by parents and schools”.

Yet some students tend to push these limits too far and soon their petty drunken states can lead to more serious offences, such as shoplifting, assault and public violence. American exchange student, Lindsay Pyrdol, says that a friend of hers “wandered into a shop early one drunken morning, paralytically forgot to pay for a chocolate and ended being arrested by the police stationed just outside. Unfortunately he never would have done this in his proper state of mind and it is sad to think that drinking leads to these poor judgment calls!”

But what happens if you do get arrested? Do you then have a record for life?No, fortunately for some, being drunk and disorderly does not go onto a permanent record. However, it does constitute a temporary criminal record on the police system. For a first-time perpetrator, a minimum of four hours must be spent in a somewhat less-than-comfortable holding cell and thereafter a fine of approximately R100 must be paid. However, if a person is a continuous offender then the bail charge increases and they will be given a permanent criminal record.

So, why does Grahamstown stand out so much in this way and why is this drinking culture constantly associated with Rhodes students? Well, according to De Klerk’s survey and report, “the level of drinking at Rhodes University is possibly no higher than that at any other University in South Africa, it does have a rather undesirable reputation as the “drinking university” and the reason for this is twofold. Firstly, the drinking behaviour is highly visible, because of the size of the town, and because of the location of many off-campus pubs and bars near to the University. This means that Rhodes students pursue their after-hours relaxation in a very concentrated, small area, whereas in a large city, university students are doing the same thing, but anonymously.”

As we all know, the University has a “no tolerance” policy when it comes to intoxication and more experienced students will know the famous saying “consumption of alcohol is regarded as an aggravating factor and not a mitigating factor”. So what solution can be posed to staying out of trouble? Dr Rosa Klein, house warden of Allan Gray Residence, suggested a few helpful precautions, saying, “Firstly, if you are going out and you are keen on having a ‘big night’, ask a friend to keep an eye on you and secondly, never walk home alone, especially after one too many – let a friend walk you back. This will not only keep you safe but hopefully the friend will urge you to behave in an acceptable (and law abiding) manner.”

We are all looking for that ‘full university experience’, but it is important to remember that there is a line to be drawn between fun and responsibility. If, after a night out, you land up in the Grahamstown Police Station’s “five-star bed and breakfast” – as the officers like to call it – you might just not have such a great university experience – just a regretful morning-after story to tell.


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