Lobby group wants government to raise South Africa’s legal drinking age to 21

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa) says the introduction of stronger alcohol laws in South Africa will help reduce crime in South Africa, especially the maltreatment of children.

The group is calling for the passing of the Liquor Amendment Bill, which it says will help change the country’s drinking culture.

“We should acknowledge the link between the harmful use of alcohol by adults in the home and in the community and the physical and psychological abuse of children in our society and take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening,” said SAAPA South Africa director Maurice Smithers.

“It is not enough to teach the youth not to drink. There also needs to be a change in South Africa’s drinking culture and how we normalise alcohol as something that is fun and aspirational, encouraging young people to assume that alcohol is a natural and necessary part of life.”

First mooted in 2016, the Liquor Amendment 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.

While the draft legislation has been reconsidered a number of times over the last five years, most recently at the start of 2021, the bill has not taken any further steps to formal introduction.

Formal introduction

The opposition Democratic Alliance has also called for the formal introduction of the bill as opposed to the government’s attempts to ‘sneak in’ major liquor policy changes using the national state of disaster.

The DA said that it has become far too easy for the government to target the liquor industry rather than address flaws in the country’s healthcare system.

Instead, the party has called on the government to introduce formal changes through the Liquor Amendment Bill, instead of another ban on alcohol sales.

“Government is more than welcome to put back on the table the Liquor Amendment Bill which has gathered dust under two successive ministers. Then we can deal with any proposals put through by lobby groups,” it said.

“However, we would simply not be having these discussions if we had embarked on a meaningful vaccination programme.”

Read: Government to introduce stricter anti-smoking rules for South Africa

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Lobby group wants government to raise South Africa’s legal drinking age to 21