Calls for new Liquor Amendment bill as fears grow over another ban in South Africa

The opposition Democratic Alliance says the government should reject attempts to ‘sneak in’ major liquor policy changes using the national state of disaster.

Responding to proposals by lobby group the South African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa), the DA said that has become far too easy for the government to target the liquor industry rather than address flaws in the country’s healthcare system.

Instead, the party has called on the government to introduce formal changes through the Liquor Amendment Bill, instead of another ban on alcohol sales.

“Government is more than welcome to put back on the table the Liquor Amendment Bill which has gathered dust under two successive ministers. Then we can deal with any proposals put through by lobby groups,” it said.

“However, we would simply not be having these discussions if we had embarked on a meaningful vaccination programme.”

First mooted in 2016, the Liquor Amendment Bill proposes a number of wide-reaching changes including:

  • Increasing the drinking age to 21 years;
  • The introduction of a 100-metre radius limitation of trade around educational and religious institutions;
  • Banning of any alcohol sales and advertising on social and small media;
  • The introduction of new liability clause for alcohol-sellers.

While the bill has been reconsidered a number of times over the last five years, most recently at the start of 2021, the bill has not taken any further steps to formal introduction.

Lobby push 

At the other end of the scale, the South African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa) has called on the government to restrict alcohol sales and advertising in South Africa as part of the fight against the third wave of Covid-19 in the country.

The group is calling for a host of restrictions to be placed on alcohol trade, including events and gatherings which could promote drinking. It is also taking aim at other laws and alcohol advertising, insisting that government:

  1. Prohibit major alcohol-fuelled party events, including street parties;
  2. Reduce the gathering numbers to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors;
  3. Extend the curfew from midnight to 22h00, seven days a week;
  4. Announce that all on-consumption liquor outlets should be closed from 18h00 on public holidays and one day prior to public holidays to discourage the excessive use of alcohol in overcrowded venues and to limit the potential for ‘super-spreader’ events;
  5. Disallow alcohol consumption in public places, particularly in parks, on beaches, at swimming pools etc;
  6. Suspend for a minimum three months, or revoking, the licences of outlets that break alcohol and/or Covid-19 regulations;
  7. Reduce off-consumption operating hours.
  8. Temporarily impose zero breath and blood concentration levels for drivers during the State of Disaster – such a measure is already contained in the Road Traffic Amendment Bill which is currently before Parliament and has wide-spread support, but won’t be enacted before the end of 2021;
  9. Ban all special offers for reduced price alcoholic beverages at least until the end of the State of Disaster;
  10. Ban all alcohol advertising except at point of sale to reduce the pressure on people to drink.

In response to these proposals, the South African Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) says it is wary of a push by anti-alcohol groups to use the country’s Covid-19 lockdown to change rules around the sale of alcohol.

The local alcohol industry and its stakeholders share the government’s concern over the pandemic and will continue to support meaningful measures to flatten the curve, said Sibani Mngadi, chairperson of Salba.

He said the industry has repeatedly made recommendations to the government through the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) on measures to deal with surges in Covid-19 infections and will continue to work with the government in an effort to save lives, while protecting the livelihoods of a million jobs within the alcohol value-chain.

“The national state of disaster is about saving lives from the pandemic while protecting livelihoods in a society challenged with a triple burden of unemployment, poverty and inequality. It is not a platform to further an individual entity’s agenda on anti-alcohol advocacy,” he said.

Mngadi said that the alcohol industry has suffered a R36.3 billion loss in sales revenue, while the government has lost R8.7 billion in excise tax and R29.3 billion in tax revenue from the value chain as a result of the past three alcohol related bans.

He said that the vaccination roll-out is the ultimate solution to restrictions so that the economy can move toward recovery.

Read: Lockdown can’t be used to change alcohol laws in South Africa: liquor body

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Calls for new Liquor Amendment bill as fears grow over another ban in South Africa