Big changes for alcohol laws in South Africa still coming – including a push to increase the drinking age

 ·25 Oct 2023

Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu says the government will review the Liquor Amendment Bill.

Speaking at the Bi-Annual Global Alcohol Policy Conference (GAPC), Zulu said that there was a wide push to pass the Liquor Amendment Bill.

“I hear you, and that is the message ‘Pass the Liquor Amendment Bill now.’ From the Department of Social Development and all other government people that are here, [we] take note of what has been brought to us here. This is a positive message and a message that says to us we must listen when you stand up to talk to us,” Zulu said.

The Bill was first introduced in 2016 by the Department of Trade and Industry and had many far-reaching changes, such as:

  • 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 a new liability clause for alcohol sellers.

However, the Bill has not seen any progress to formal introduction since, despite several reconsiderations.

In February 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet reconsidered the Draft Liquor Amendment Bill due to the harmful effects of alcohol during the nation’s Covid-19 lockdown, but this seemed to have come to nought.

Other plan

Zulu said that alcohol has a particularly damaging effect on the population.

“While we are concerned about the harm that all drugs have on individuals, families and or society as a whole, there is a significant body of evidence from research institutions such as the South African Medical Research Council and Soul City that suggest that alcohol is one of the most abused substances that causes the most harm to the most people in our country,” Zulu said. 

She added that alcohol leads to crime, higher mortality rates, vehicle crashes and greater gender-based violence.

“In the face of these growing challenges, our people have demanded that the Government take necessary measures to address the harmful use of alcohol. I must acknowledge that this has not been the easiest of tasks,” she said.

“Any measures to prevent and reduce alcohol harm has been met with a monumental and well-resourced pushback that seems to put commercial interests before people from the alcohol industry.”

“We witnessed this when the Government introduced measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, including measures to reduce the impact of alcohol on the health system resources at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, liquor traders in Limpopo Province pushed back against Government’s plans to restrict the sale of alcoholic beverages after midnight.”

Despite these challenges, the minister said that the Draft Policy on the Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Use Disorders has been approved for public participation by Cabinet.

The policy looks at where the greatest drug-related harms are occurring and the best ways to address them.

She added that Cabinet recommended that a special committee of Ministers be established to ensure coordination in harm prevention and reduction strategies across government.

Although the policy has not been gazetted yet, SA Legal Academy said that Zulu may be referring to work by the Department of Trade and Industry on creating ‘alcohol use legislation’ and amendments to the Liquor Act, 2003, which was referenced in May of this year.

Read: Lifestyle audits for South Africa’s millionaire ministers – Ramaphosa has nothing to say

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