Bantu Beer

Following a government ban on alcohol for Black South Africans, consumption went underground in so-called shebeens. These were locally run establishments where liquor and beer were sold illegally. The municipal response was to legalize the consumption of government-sanctioned ‘Bantu beer’ in city-run beer gardens. Ernest Cole (1940-90) photographed both legal and illegal drinking establishments, dismissing ‘Bantu beer’ as a means for the government to capitalize on the human need to forget.

Until the government went into the business of selling liquor to Africans, it was illegal for them to drink. They did drink in places called shebeens, where many still prefer to gather, despite the threat of police raids.

“Mostly it is the feeling that this is his sanctuary, a place where he isn’t feeding the government coffers every time he buys a drink, a place where he can sit at ease among his own kind and talk, drink, and be himself. The threat of a raid continues, but it is worth the risk.(…) If a man can’t drown his troubles away, at least he can make them float for a while”

Original text from the exhibition ‘House of Bondage’ by the South African photographer
Ernest Cole @foam_amsterdam