Government to review South Africa’s alcohol ban ‘on a regular basis’: report

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma says that government will re-evaluate the country’s alcohol ban on a regular basis, News24 reports.

Responding in court papers in a case brought by the Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai), Dlamini-Zuma said that this review would consider the hardships facing the economy and livelihoods during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“It is contemplated that the suspension of the sale of liquor will be re-evaluated with regularity as government aims to also limit hardships facing the economy and individual livelihoods during this period.

“There is no desire on the part of government to leave this prohibition in place for longer that it is regarded necessary,” she said.

This aligns with previous comments made by president Cyril Ramaphosa who has indicated that the prohibition on the sale of alcohol is not a ‘ban’.

In a virtual presidential imbizo on 15 July, the president said that the government was forced to reintroduce the prohibition on the sale of alcohol as hospital beds were being taken up by alcohol-related trauma cases.

However, he said that this should be seen as a “suspension” on the sale of alcohol “for a while” to allow for the country’s healthcare systems to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is not a ban, it’s a suspension to allow our health system to be able to cope,” he said.

He further indicated that the ban on the sale of alcohol and the sale of tobacco products would be reconsidered as the country lowered its alert levels.

Court challenge

While government has given no indication as to when a review will take place, or when the country could move to a lower alert level, its hand may ultimately be forced as it faces increasing pressure by the liquor industry through the country’s courts.

Saai said that it will urgently approach the Northern Gauteng High Court in Pretoria to have the ban on the sale and consumption of wine in restaurants set aside. The case is to be heard in August.

The application comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa once again announced a complete ban on the sale and transportation of liquor on 12 July.

Saai argues that these regulations are threatening the existence of some of the oldest family farms in South Africa and are shackling a sector that competes with the best in the world and that plays a key role in the economy.

The government already offers no drought relief or financial assistance to these farmers and by closing their market, government ensures their end, it said.

“The implementation of these regulations is arbitrary and irrational,” said Francois Rossouw, chief executive officer of Saai.

The government’s statement that the regulations are implemented to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus and to prevent an overburdened healthcare system simply does not hold water.

“Government pretends to want to save the economy, but apply double standards when it comes to the application thereof.

“Taxis pose a major threat in spreading the virus, yet they are allowed to function at 100% capacity. Restaurants may be open, but are banned from serving wine in a regulated, hygienic environment where physical distancing is applied,” he said.

Saai said it will request the Court to repeal Schedule 44(1) and (2) of the new regulations and to allow the serving of wine on wine farms and in restaurants.

It indicated that its application is supported by 13 other applicants from the wine industry.

Read: New legal challenges against South Africa’s lockdown rules

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Government to review South Africa’s alcohol ban ‘on a regular basis’: report