Government is currently considering a proposal by the Restaurant Association of South Africa (RASA) to lift the country’s ban on the sale of alcohol and evening curfew.
The association’s Wendy Alberts said that the proposal would see the introduction of ‘triage’ areas, where individual communities take responsibility for alcohol-related harms in a specific area.
Alberts said under this system, individual consumers would have to apply for a permit to purchase alcohol – likely at the local police station – and would have to apply using their phone number and other forms of registration.
This would extend to bar and tavern owners refusing to serve a customer who could possibly drink and drive, as well as specific community-led interventions around hotspot areas which have a high number of crimes related to alcohol consumption.
If problems arose in a certain area then they would no longer be able to sell liquor, she said.
Alberts said that the association is also calling for a lifting of an evening curfew as it served no purpose considering the current ban on the sale of alcohol.
She confirmed that the RASA’s proposal is officially being considered by government and that an official response is expected on Wednesday (29 July).
When asked about the likelihood of success in lifting the ban, Alberts indicated that the proposal is effectively a demand as the restaurant industry cannot continue under the current regulations.
The National Liquor Traders Council (NLTC) has warned that a second ban on the sale of alcohol threatens the livelihoods of more than 34,500 tavern owners in South Africa, while as many as 500,000 people in the industry face economic ruin.
Taverns, the liquor body said, contribute between R40 billion and R60 billion a year to the economy, specifically the township economy.
It has called on the government to support taverns financially during the ban through a one-off payment of R20,000 for each tavern, totalling R690 million.
NLTC convener Lucky Ntimane called on president Cyril Ramaphosa to provide clarity on when the ban on alcohol sales will be lifted.
“If the government acts now and lifts the ban, we can begin to recover and prevent this catastrophe,” he said.
“The unfortunate decision by president Cyril Ramaphosa to suspend the sale of alcohol has shattered the entire alcohol industry and its extensive value chain. The fact that the government failed to consult with the industry before the ban added salt to the already gaping wound.
“The government’s posture as regards support for taverns has been mute, and its lack of appetite to engage with the NLTC on the issue of preserving livelihoods and lifting the alcohol ban has been ignored,” said Ntimane.
Speaking through a virtual Presidential Imbizo on the coronavirus earlier this month, Ramaphosa said that the government was forced to reintroduce the prohibition on the sale of alcohol as hospital beds were being taken up by alcohol-related trauma cases.
However, he said that this should be seen as a ‘suspension’ on the sale of alcohol ‘for a while’ to allow for the country’s healthcare systems to focus on the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is not a ban, it’s a suspension to allow our health system to be able to cope,” he said.
The NLTC has announced a Tavern Relief Programme that aims to raise R100 million to support taverns over a two to three-month period by providing food parcels and other necessary supplies.
Ntimane said the body hopes to raise the money through industry partners and the general public.
The government has said that there is a clear correlation between an increase in hospital trauma cases and the reintroduction of alcohol sales.
However, medical experts from the Universities of the Witwatersrand and KwaZulu-Natal have previously warned that the major decline in trauma cases in hospitals during level 4 and level 5 lockdown may not be directly attributable to the alcohol ban.
Instead, it’s more likely that the reduction of trauma cases was as a result of restricted movement under the ‘hard’ lockdowns, which prevented people from interacting and getting into trouble and kept more people off the roads, they said.
Speaking to Rapport, the experts said that the better move from the government in recent weeks would have been to again look at tighter restrictions on movement and around the sale of alcohol, rather than an outright ban.
Using the example of Chris Hani Baragwanath in Johannesburg, Rapport investigated the number of trauma cases reported during lockdown. In March, before the lockdown came into effect, the hospital recorded 2,217 trauma cases.
In April, under lockdown level 5, this dropped to 1,151 cases. In May, under lockdown level 4 – where restrictions on movement were loosened – this increased to 1,623.
In June, when restrictions on movement were loosened significantly, and the sale of alcohol was again allowed, trauma cases at the hospital increased by over 1,000 cases, the paper said.
Further, it was noted that South Africa’s drop off in trauma cases under hard lockdown was in-line with other countries which also implemented tight lockdowns, but did not ban alcohol.
“It’s evident that where physical movement and coming together are involved, the chances of car accidents and violence are higher,” the experts said.
“According to tracking data recorded by smartphones, the movement of South Africans during hard lockdown decreased by 80%. Simply put, this means that limited movement presents fewer opportunities for trauma.”