Stop smoking your Rooibos

ANTHONY BUTLER: Too much tea can make Covid-19 worse

Use of various kinds, smoked or drunk, might increase spin or disinformation


Covid-19 is messing with the minds of many good citizens. We should not make this problem worse by experimenting with illicit drugs.

Research published in the Lancet late in 2020 reported that one in five of those infected with the coronavirus develop depression, anxiety or dementia within three months of diagnosis. The ripples of psychic distress spread outwards to families enduring illness or bereavement.

Meanwhile, lockdowns and economic disruption result in isolation and fear, which trigger or worsen existing or underlying mental health conditions.

Insomnia, anxiety and excessive drug and alcohol use are widespread even among families not directly affected by the virus. Now media reports from the Johannesburg suburb of Melville suggest cigarette and alcohol bans during lockdown have resulted in experimental smoking of illicit materials that may become enduring.ADVERTISING

One Melville smoker told reporters his “Freshpak Rooibos” tasted “a little like a forest fire … It burns surprisingly well, like an actual cigarette would, but it’s quite difficult to roll because the tea is so dry.”

Another leaf-dependent social pathology, tea-drinking, has also become endemic. Former president Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa, both notorious Rooibos drinkers for decades, have allegedly enticed others to join their circle of sin.

Little more than a year ago, in October 2019, EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema was invited to “Tea with Helen” by a then unemployed treasure of the nation, Helen Zille.

The event was much anticipated. Who could not look forward to the antics of a backstreet bruiser, throwing out foul-mouthed obscenities and threatening physical violence to a cowering adversary? And Malema might also have been worth watching.

The EFF leader sensibly chickened out. In our new covidian condition of perpetual intoxication, however, a tea invitation from Zuma proved irresistible to the middle-aged, formerly youthful, former youth league leader.

As was the case with the original Boston Tea Party in 1773, the main issue under discussion at Nkandla was probably “liberty”. In other words, various rich people do not want to pay taxes to the colonial revenue service.

They are “patriots” who will no longer stand by while colonial laws, such as the Tea Act of 1773 and the Public Finance Management Act of 1999, are used to oppress ordinary rich folk. These “heroes” especially do not want to go to prison.

This is not really complicated. However, many remunerated intellectuals and reporters inhabit trendy suburbs such as Melville, where our woozy and ill-focused consciousness leaves us vulnerable to spin and disinformation.

Some of us put down our tea pipes, roused ourselves from our dreamlike states and tried to discern a “deeper meaning” to the tea party. What did it mean when these leaders were delivered by great birds in the sky? What did Vuyani Pambo, an unoccupied mind of the EFF, imply when he said the tea was warm and sugary?

Does it matter that the streets of Nkandla now boast a wobbly-kneed detachment of military zombies from the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association, proclaiming their loyalty to Zuma and threatening to bite those who oppose him? Will ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule become president of the ANC in December 2022?

We are all anxious and confused, but the smoke is clearing. The machinery of the criminal justice system is not moving fast but it is moving. We do not have to fear undead corporeal revenants such as Zuma, Malema or Magashule. Our real problem is the fresh waves of political zombies lined up in their many ranks behind them.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.

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