Pressure mounts on government to make permanent changes to alcohol laws in South Africa

While government’s decision to stop the prohibition on the sale of alcohol this week has largely been welcomed, it is facing calls from a growing number of sectors to introduce more permanent laws around liquor sales in South Africa.

Medical professionals are the latest group to call for changes, saying that the strict lockdown regulations under the latest ban drastically improved hospital bed availability.

A number of doctors from private hospitals across Gauteng told the Sunday Times that tougher rules, especially around drinking and driving, would have a major impact on hospital admissions.

An additional tax on alcohol has been mooted, with the additional money used to improve the country’s healthcare infrastructure.

Last week, Trade federation Cosatu said that government needs to introduce more permanent changes around the sale of alcohol in South Africa.

The labour group said that the decisions to outright ban the sale of alcohol – which has happened on three different occasions in the last year – was untenable because of the harm it did to the economy and resulted in job losses.

“The total banning of alcohol is not a solution and lazy and populist politicians who advocate for such are misguided,” it said.

However, the federation said that the country needs a ‘cultural shift’ around alcohol and tighter regulation of its consumption and advertising.

“It is an indictment on government that 26 years after the democratic breakthrough, taverns are one of the few venues for economic activity in townships and rural areas.

“Government needs to show leadership and business must show patriotism in dealing with the effects of the alcohol ban on the economy and the alcohol abuse problem on our health system.  There are no perfect solutions on this matter, so dialogue and compromise should be used to resolve it. ”

The opposition Democratic Alliance, which is also pushing for more permanent changes, says that government already has ready-made legislation waiting in the wings.

The Draft Liquor Amendment Bill, which was first mooted in 2016, 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.

Under consideration

In January, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that his government will look at the introduction of new regulations around the sale of alcohol in South Africa.

Ramaphosa said that the temporary restrictions that were introduced under the adjusted level 3 lockdown have demonstrated the extent to which abuse of alcohol fuels violence, trauma and reckless behaviour.

“The legislative part is something that we need to look at very closely to see how do we begin to … reduce the abuse of alcohol,” he said.

“It could revolve around things like age limits; we need to deal with age limits, to raise the age limit. Or do we need to look at trading hours for the purchase of alcohol, do we need to look at things like taxation.”

Read: Dlamini-Zuma outlines new lockdown rules for South Africa

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Pressure mounts on government to make permanent changes to alcohol laws in South Africa