South Africa to look at stricter alcohol laws – here’s what you should know

 ·10 Jan 2021

President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for a review of the country’s regulations around alcohol as a means of combatting the high rates of crime and violence.

Speaking at the ANC’s 109th-anniversary celebrations on Friday (8 January), Rampahosa said that government must be more direct in its efforts to reduce alcohol and substance abuse, which he said are major contributing factors in the perpetration of violence.

“The temporary restrictions that were placed on the availability of alcohol under the state of disaster regulations have demonstrated the extent to which abuse of alcohol fuels violence, trauma and reckless behaviour and places a burden on our health system and emergency services.

“We must take measures to reduce the abuse of alcohol through a combination of legislative and other measures and community mobilisation,” he said.

While this review was named as a key priority for the ANC government in 2021, this is is not the first time that government has considered introducing further legislation as a means of grappling with the country’s alcohol-related problems.

In 2016, it mooted the Liquor Amendment Bill – which has effectively been stuck in cabinet for the last four years. The draft 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.

Drunk driving 

Government is also set to introduce stricter rules around drunk driving in South Africa, with the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill currently open for public comment.

Among dozens of new traffic and motoring-related changes, the bill also introduces a total prohibition for the use and consumption of alcohol by all motor vehicle operators on South African public roads.

It does this by deleting reference to any alcohol content in the blood or breath specimen of motor vehicle drivers on the road in South Africa.

The National Road Traffic Act (NRA) currently enables those who have consumed alcohol to get behind the wheel provided they are under the blood alcohol limit.

However, the bill has faced heavy criticism and the Automobile Association (AA) has warned that the proposed amendment will make motorists soft targets for traffic law enforcers, and that the desired outcomes of improved road safety will not be met.

“These proposed changes are concerning on a number of levels and although the stated reason for the change is the promotion of road safety, within the current framework of traffic law enforcement, nothing will change, except that innocent drivers are likely to be criminalised.

“For instance, someone who is using medication which contains alcohol will now be arrested, charged and possibly prosecuted for having a small dose of alcohol in their blood while their driving ability has not been impaired,” it said.

Provincial-level changes

At a provincial level, the Western Cape government has said it is considering stricter rules around the sale of liquor as the province continues to combat the abuse of alcohol and its knock-on effects.

In October 2020, Premier Alan Winde said that the Western Cape Government will propose major amendments to the Western Cape Liquor Act, with these changes to be ‘fast-tracked as an urgent priority’.

“As part of these amendments, I can announce that we have now put ‘per-unit-of-alcohol’ pricing firmly on the table for consideration,” he said.

“This will make it more expensive to buy alcoholic beverages with higher alcohol percentages; an approach which evidence suggests can be effective in preventing binge drinking.”

Winde said that the province will also consider stricter times for the sale of alcohol, even after the expiry of the National State of the Disaster regulations.

Winde’s comment comes after the Western Cape’s minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz, said that his provincial department plans to make amendments to the Western Cape Liquor Act.

Fritz said his department has been tasked with amending the act as a part of its a plan to halve the murder rate in the province over the next 10 years. The amendments are further aligned with premier Winde’s Smart Interventions aimed at reducing alcohol related harms (ARH), he said.

Fritz said that the province is looking to introduce the following changes:

  • Ensuring that a record of all liquor sales is kept by outlets and prescribe the measure of detail required;
  • Permanently confiscating seized liquor following the payment of an admission of guilt fine;
  • Obliging licence holders to take reasonable measures to determine that a client is of legal drinking age;
  • Inserting an objective test within the Act to determine whether alcohol has been sold to an unlicensed outlet/individual;
  • Aligning the Act with the Liquor Products Act to ensure a uniform definition of “Illicit liquor”;
  • Providing for a public participation process to alter existing licences.

Read: Government to look at basic income grant for South Africa: Ramaphosa

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