Mbalula calls for changes to drinking laws in South Africa: ‘People are out of control’

 ·24 Aug 2020

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says that the current drinking laws in South Africa do not work, calling for a review.

“As a country, we need to review our laws on the access of alcohol. We need to address this as it continues to kill our people on roads and everywhere,” the minister said on Monday (24 August).

He was speaking on the officials who were killed in a head on collision with a suspected drunk driver over the weekend. Three officers from the Tshwane metro police department (TMPD) were killed during a head-on collision with a suspected drunk driver, early on Sunday. The accident occurred on the N4.

“There is over-access for alcohol. People are out of control. We must now put our heads together. When government acts, nobody is going to say it is unfair,” the minister said. “It is not about Corona,” he said, referring to recent alcohol bans imposed on the country to free up hospital beds during the Covid-19 peak.

“Alcohol, you can see what it is doing to our country. It is a mess. This over access of alcohol…is over. It must come to an end,” Mbalula said. “We must review our laws, in terms of access,” he said noting that the current laws do not work.

“As a country, we need to review our laws on the access of alcohol. We need to address this as it continues to kill our people on roads and everywhere.”

Mbalula has already proposed new drunk driving rules for South Africa, but no implementation date has been set.

The new proposal will see a total prohibition around the use and consumption of alcohol by all motor vehicle operators on South African public roads.

Increase in drunken behaviour

Government meanwhile, has called on all South Africans to promote the responsible use of alcohol, as a spate of fatal accidents has occurred following the reopening of liquor sales under level 2 of the nationwide lockdown.

“It cannot be acceptable that three Tshwane Metro Police Department (TMPD) officers are among the people who died in alcohol-related vehicle accidents, which occurred in Gauteng this past weekend.

“Government sends its condolences to the families and loved ones of the three officers who died in such a tragic manner,” said Government Communications (GCIS) director-general, Phumla Williams, in a statement on Monday.

Williams said it was tragic that the positive progress the country has made towards containing the spread of Covid-19 is being dampened by reports of alcohol abuse, recklessness and fatal vehicle crashes.

Police have confirmed that 740 suspects, including two police officers, have since been arrested for drinking and driving.

A 27-year-old constable was arrested in Sedibeng on Saturday night after driving into an accident scene, injuring a bystander. He was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as reckless and negligent driving.

A sergeant was arrested in Norwood, Johannesburg, on Thursday night after his car collided with a Metro police vehicle. The 37-year-old was arrested on the spot and charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol.

Williams said while many South Africans are responsible in their use of alcohol, government and society cannot sit idle while lives are being destroyed as a result of alcohol abuse.

“We have noticed that some people do not abide by alert level 2 regulations, which place restrictions on gathering. We urge law enforcement authorities to play their role in bringing the culprits to book.

“In the midst of a pandemic, it cannot be acceptable that healthcare workers in our hospitals have to deal with high numbers of cases at trauma units as a result of alcohol.

“Although government is committed to address societal issues such as alcohol abuse and the carnage on our roads, ultimately, these issues are everybody’s responsibility,” said Williams.

Government, Williams said, further appeals to the liquor industry to strengthen current efforts with government, which aim to curb the scourge of alcohol abuse.

“Alcohol abuse is also often at the heart of contact crimes, which include murder, attempted murder, sexual offences, assault resulting in grievous bodily harm, common assault and robbery,” Williams said, adding that some families risk being totally destroyed because of the extent of alcohol abuse.

Williams said an estimated 70% of domestic violence is associated with alcohol.

“Law enforcement agencies are urged to do their part through visible enforcement, but more importantly, we urge road users, especially drivers, to take extra care and exercise the utmost vigilance on the road.

“We welcome the call from Police Minister Bheki Cele for police to be tough on alcohol consumption and driving,” she said.

Alcohol industry response

Alcohol industry players have pledged to invest upwards of R150 million in harm-reduction programmes over the next year.

The industry will focus on upscaling existing programmes while also finding new, innovative measures to deal with key areas of concern including drunk driving, abuse, and under age drinking, according to industry spokesperson, and corporate relations director at Diageo, Sibani Mngadi.

Mngadi outlined some of the key measures that the industry is looking to introduce:

Drinking & driving/walking

Mngadi said that the industry will support legislative and enforcement measures to reduce drinking and driving/walking by capacitating law enforcement with resources to effectively enforce it, and by partnering with retailers regarding interventions in high-risk areas.

Underage drinking

The industry is in discussion with the retail sector to explore the implementation of an ID verification system in all retail outlets (on-and off-consumption), as well as the extension of the underage drinking education programme, Mngadi said.

“This programme was developed for engagement in school environments using digital platforms so that information can be disseminated to community- based youth organisations.”

Gender-based violence & femicide

Mngadi said that the industry is committed to partnering with the government and civil society in addressing the issue of gender-based violence and femicide. He said that dialogues with tavern owners are underway to explore the best measures and the role that outlet owners can play in an effort to curb gender-based violence.

Binge drinking

The industry will ramp up its consumer education campaigns on binge drinking, which will include responsible messaging as well as defining drinking guidelines to influence behaviour.

“Various brands have introduced reduced alcohol products and 0% alcohol products to encourage responsible drinking habits,” Mngadi said.

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