Push to raise the drinking age in South Africa: report

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet is currently reconsidering the Draft Liquor Amendment Bill in response to the harmful effects of alcohol seen during South Africa’s lockdown, TimesLive reports.

First mooted in 2016, the 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.

The move has garnered support from cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who indicated in court documents submitted last month that she is in favour of some of the proposals.

Dlamini-Zuma and government is currently facing a legal challenge from South African Breweries (SAB) around the latest ban on the sale of alcohol during the country’s level 3 lockdown in January.

The minister said she was in favour of raising the drinking age and banning alcohol advertising as part of the proposed measures.

“All of these I consider to be useful medium to long term tools to reduce South Africa’s high rate of alcohol consumption to be considered by the legislature in due course,” she said in her affidavit.

Gradual reintroduction

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA SA), a civil society group in favour of stronger alcohol policies, said that government has made a mistake in not allowing for the return of alcohol sales more gradually.

“It should be remembered that, after the first ban was lifted on 1 June 2020, there was an immediate spike in alcohol-related trauma cases, even though only off-consumption sales were allowed. Six weeks later, government found itself forced to reimpose the ban.

“That ban was lifted in September and virtually all restrictions on alcohol were removed by the end of November.”

The group said that alcohol-fuelled super-spreader events caused a rise in the number of cases and once again put pressure on hospitals, necessitating a further ban from the end of December.

“Are we going to see this happen again later in the year when the anticipated ‘third wave’ strikes?

“We believe a more cautious approach would limit the need for future bans, allowing the alcohol sector to recover while reducing the chances of the harmful use of alcohol sabotaging the country’s fight against the virus.”

Growing pressure 

Labour and civil society groups are also placing mounting pressure on government to introduce more permanent changes to South Africa’s alcohol laws.

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.

Trade federation Cosatu 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 with the Draft Liquor Amendment Bill.

Read: Food prices in South Africa in 2021: Joburg vs Cape Town vs Durban

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Push to raise the drinking age in South Africa: report