Ramaphosa wants a tougher stance on alcohol in South Africa – with new rules proposed

President Cyril Ramahosa says South Africa needs to have a ‘frank conversation’ about alcohol consumption in South Africa after 21 young people lost their lives in a tavern in the Eastern Cape at the end of June.

Writing in his weekly letter to the public, Ramaphosa said increased social acceptability of young people drinking alcohol has become a serious problem in a country where the majority of the drinking population are already classified by the World Health Organization as binge drinkers.

“Alcohol use amongst adolescents is associated with impaired function, absenteeism from learning, alcohol-related injuries, suicidal thoughts and attempts, and risky behaviour. We must come together to combat this vice that is robbing our young people of the best years of their lives, and making them susceptible to alcohol addiction.”

He added that the proliferation of establishments openly flouting the law points to failings on the part of authorities to enforce regulations.

Under the National Liquor Act, owners of establishments with liquor licenses may not sell alcohol to anyone under the age of 18. They must also take reasonable steps to ensure anyone they are selling alcohol to is of age.

“We call on communities to work with authorities to ensure that taverns, shebeens, entertainment venues and outlets breaking the law face the consequences. We call upon our police to step up the enforcement of laws that prohibit the sale of alcohol close to schools and enhance monitoring of outlets to ensure alcohol is not being sold to minors.”

Stricter rules

Ramaphosa has previously said that his government would look at introducing new regulations around the sale of alcohol in South Africa.

“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 in January 2021.

“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?”

The Liquor Amendment Bill, which was first mooted nearly six years ago, includes many of these proposed changes. However, it has not progressed through parliament.

The Draft Liquor Amendment Bill proposes several 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 a new liability clause for alcohol sellers.

Provincial laws 

The Western Cape government is considering its own liquor rules to clamp down on abuse through proposed amendments to the Western Cape Liquor Act.

Presenting his state of the province address on 15 February, Western Cape premier Alan Winde said that the amendments follow a previous commitment by the province to help clamp down on alcohol abuse.

“Our provincial cabinet has now granted in-principle approval for the first set of amendments to the Western Cape Liquor Amendment Bill to be drafted.

“Drafting instructions are now in an advanced stage and should be completed imminently. The next steps will include a full Regulatory Impact Assessment process of the second set of proposed amendments to the bill.”

Winde said that this will be a two-step amendment process to ensure that ‘quick-win amendments’ can be made as soon as possible, and not be delayed by more significant changes that will require an extensive public participation process.

Some of the changes which have previously been mooted under the amended act include:

  • Ensuring that a record of all liquor sales is kept by outlets and prescribe the measure of detail required;
  • Permanently confiscating seized liquor following the payment of an admission of guilt fine;
  • Obliging licence holders to take reasonable measures to determine that a client is of legal drinking age;
  • Inserting an objective test within the Act to determine whether alcohol has been sold to an unlicensed outlet/individual;
  • Aligning the Act with the Liquor Products Act to ensure a uniform definition of “Illicit liquor”;
  • Providing for a public participation process to alter existing licences.

Read: Young people plan to leave South Africa as brain drain concerns grow

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Ramaphosa wants a tougher stance on alcohol in South Africa – with new rules proposed