Government warned over more alcohol restrictions in South Africa

 ·20 May 2021

The National Liquor Traders Council says that government will need to engage with the liquor industry before considering another alcohol ban for South Africa.

Speaking to eNCA, the council’s managing director Lucky Ntimane said that the industry lost over 20 weeks of work due to numerous bans since the lockdown was first introduced in South Africa at the end of March 2020.

Ntimane said that bans are a blunt measure and that the government needs to sit down with the industry about the loss of jobs they have caused.

“We are not going to participate in ay unjust bans or restrictions that does not take into consideration the fact that our people are dependent on alcohol to take care of themselves and their families,” he said.

Ntimane said that the industry was concerned about the impact of a third Covid-19 wave of infections and that businesses were willing to cooperate with government and civil society to ensure that people are safe without trade being shuttered.

“This is a problem that’s not only meant to be solved by the government but all parties involved. We are ready to take up the fight, side-by-side with the government to deal with the issue.”

He said that both the liquor traders and consumers should be commended for following the existing restrictions up until this point. He added that there cannot be any situations where liquor traders flagrantly break the law and that these businesses should be reported to the police.

Investments on the line 

South African Breweries (SAB) has also said that it will consider its decision to cancel investments in the country if the government provides commitments around its future lockdown regulations and alcohol sales.

Speaking to the Sunday Times Richard Rivett-Carnac, AB InBev’s VP of finance, legal and corporate affairs for the rest of Africa, said that this includes a ‘firm and binding commitment’ from the government not to reintroduce the ban on the sale of alcohol.

The group wants more certainty about the long-term alcohol regulatory framework in South Africa.

Rivett-Carnac said the company understands that restrictions on people’s movements and on gatherings could be required, but it wants an undertaking that an outright alcohol ban will not be reimposed.

“Last year the impact was devastating and we didn’t trade for months and months, so you can imagine a business of our size with our fixed-cost base, with zero revenue coming in, the impact was very material on our business last year.

“And this year we disclosed that volumes declined again after we were again locked down in January. The impact each time there is a ban is very severe.”

SAB has already cancelled R5 billion in investments in the country due to the ban, with R2.5 billion halted in 2020 and a further R2.5 billion placed on hold in January 2021.

Business Leadership SA chief executive Busisiwe Mavuso said the bans on the alcohol industry could have been better managed. The real problem was government putting more than 220,000 jobs at risk, while billions of rands in tax were lost to the fiscus as a result of the bans.

“The decisions made to confront the health crisis should not have unintended consequences for the economy, and that is exactly what has happened with the bans on alcohol,” she said.

Policy changes 

Ntimane’s comments come after the South African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa) called on the government to restrict alcohol sales and advertising in South Africa as part of the fight against the third wave of Covid-19 in the country.

Saapa is a lobby group comprised of a network of non-profit organisations which advocate for evidence-based alcohol policies.

The group is calling for a host of restrictions to be placed on alcohol trade, including events and gatherings which could promote drinking.

It is also taking aim at other laws and alcohol advertising, insisting that government:

  1. Prohibit major alcohol-fuelled party events, including street parties;
  2. Reduce the gathering numbers to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors;
  3. Extend the curfew from midnight to 22h00, seven days a week;
  4. Announce that all on-consumption liquor outlets should be closed from 18h00 on public holidays and one day prior to public holidays to discourage the excessive use of alcohol in overcrowded venues and to limit the potential for ‘super-spreader’ events;
  5. Disallow alcohol consumption in public places, particularly in parks, on beaches, at swimming pools etc;
  6. Suspend for a minimum three months, or revoking, the licences of outlets that break alcohol and/or Covid-19 regulations;
  7. Reduce off-consumption operating hours.
  8. Temporarily impose zero breath and blood concentration levels for drivers during the State of Disaster – such a measure is already contained in the Road Traffic Amendment Bill which is currently before Parliament and has wide-spread support, but won’t be enacted before the end of 2021;
  9. Ban all special offers for reduced price alcoholic beverages at least until the end of the State of Disaster;
  10. Ban all alcohol advertising except at point of sale to reduce the pressure on people to drink.

Read: Unions call for schools in South Africa to close as third Covid-19 wave hits

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