6 things you need to know about South Africa’s new drinking laws

South African citizens and other interested parties have until 28 February 2017 to comment on the new proposed Liquor Amendment Bill which plans to introduce a number of big changes to the way alcohol is distributed and consumed in South Africa.

The Western Cape which alongside Gauteng is expected to be the hardest hit by the new laws, will officially host the first of its public consultation sessions on 27 January, where a number of parties are expected to air their grievances against the Bill.

These are expected to be the biggest points of contention.

21 and over

The bill proposes banning the supply of liquor and methylated spirits to persons under the age of 21 – up from 18 currently. This includes any and all alcoholic advertisements which are aimed at people under the age of 21.

Addressing parliament about the Bill in October 2016, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies explained that the change was introduced both to curb early on-set alcoholism and to prevent any potential brain-damage as the human brain did not fully develop until the mid-twenties.

According to Minister Davies, South Africa currently has the highest level of alcohol consumption in the world at 10-12% as compared to the world average of 6%, a statement recently confirmed by fact-checking website Africa Check.

Changes to where alcohol can be sold

The new bill calls for the prohibition of  the manufacturing, distribution or retail sale of liquor in both rural and urban communities, on any location that is less than 500 metres away from schools, place of worship, recreational facilities, rehabilitation or treatment centres, residential areas, public institutions and other like amenities.


Manufacturers and suppliers of alcohol to illegal or unlicensed outlets will effectively be liable to all damages caused by their unlawful distribution.

This includes any unlawful conduct, death or injury and/or the loss of or physical damage to property caused by a person who has been sold alcohol from an illegal distributor.

While legal experts and industry associations have praised the hard-line stance on illegal sellers, they’ve warned it could have serious social and legal repercussions and would negatively impact alcohol sold in townships, which forms a significant part of their economies.


Current alcohol advertising prohibits the airing of adverts featuring alcohol between 2pm and 5pm on weekdays and before 12pm on weekends on TV. On radio the restrictions are 6am-9am and 2pm-5pm on weekdays and no advertising before 12pm on weekends.

The new Bill will ban all alcohol advertisements on radio and TV between 6am and 7pm. In addition it will ban any billboard advertising placed less than 100 meters away from junctions, street corners or traffic circles.

Provincial issues

Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal are expected to offer the most resistance to the Bill as the provinces have historically been given license to issue their own rules and regulations.

Provincial legislators have also specifically pointed to the new distribution laws which could be a significant blow to township economies and their shebeen culture. They warn that township communities are still unlikely to follow the new laws and that it would severely impact how government is perceived in these areas.

The Western Cape also tabled its own proposed regulations in September 2016. These are set to include higher prices, tighter trading hours, and a zero-tolerance approach to drinking among new drivers.

Industry objections and the alternative plan

The South African Liquor Brand Owners Association – which represents producers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers of alcoholic beverages – has offered its own national strategic plan to reduce alcohol-related harm, according to a recent report by BusinessDay.

This includes a R150 million combined annual contribution from members of the association, with a focus on addressing underage drinking, foetal alcohol syndrome disorder, driving under the influence, binge drinking, interpersonal and domestic violence and unlicensed outlets.

This “alternative plan” also features less restrictive advertising rules, following the revelation that the proposed new time-slots and billboard rules would see an estimated R2.38 billion loss in annual advertising spend by liquor manufacturers and distributors.

It also highlighted the dangers of increasing the drinking age and further criminalisation of illegal alcohol trading which would have “the unintended consequence of shifting the consumption of alcohol from licensed outlets to homes and student residences as well as other areas that are outside the public domain.”

Read: Comment period extended for new SA booze bill

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6 things you need to know about South Africa’s new drinking laws