The alcohol industry is fighting back against the government’s decision to reimpose the ban on alcohol. The Sunday Times reports that the four liquor groups have written to finance minister Tito Mboweni and SARS asking that they not be required to pay excise duties of R2.5 billion in each of July and August.
“The industry and its entire value chain are facing an enormous financial crisis, and its capacity to make these payments is severely constrained,” said industry spokesperson Sibani Mngadi.
“The sustainability of the sector, now and in the post-COVID era, is dependent on this deferment if job losses are to be avoided.”
Distell has also committed to taking every possible avenue available to it to get the alcohol ban lifted.
Distell CEO Richard Rushton said it is seeking legal advice regarding the fact that it was not consulted – a matter with Mngadi also highlighted – and whether the decision is ‘fair and reasonable.’
“We reiterate our commitment to partner with the government to create a social compact that drives behavioural change regarding the use and consumption of alcohol,” said Mngadi.
Why the ban was reinstated
Speaking during a briefing on Monday 13 July, Mkhize provided the government’s reasoning behind the reinstatement of the alcohol ban.
Mkhize cited data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which shows that the average South African drinker consumes 64.6g of absolute alcohol per day – or about 5-6 drinks of 12g absolute alcohol content – as opposed to the afro-region average of about 40g.
Mkhize also said that almost 6 out of 10 South African drinkers are binge drinkers – which poses a significant risk for the national health system given the current situation.
“When we look at the end of the day, it is more about limiting the damage each particular set of circumstances tends to create,” said Mhize.
“It would be inexcusable to end up with beds blocked by something that is completely preventable and avoidable as the consumption of alcohol.”
Mkhize added that modelling has been done to predict what effect the ban would have on the health system.
It found that the ban would result in a 20% reduction in all trauma cases, including a 40% decrease in alcohol-related trauma cases, by the third week of the ban.
“We plead for understanding and patience as we try to navigate through a very difficult time,” said Mkhize.
Balancing lives and livelihoods
Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has also provided insight into the ban on alcohol.
“When people are drinking in groups, they let their guard down,” said Dlamini-Zuma.
She noted that alcohol consumption often results in people not wearing masks, social distancing, or sanitising.
“When people have taken liquor, they get drunk – some become violent, start fighting, killing each other, or even at home they become violent,” she added.
She noted that these people then have to be rushed to hospital, which results in them taking up a bed which should be used to treat those who are seriously ill with COVID-19.
Alcohol ban decision may undermine rule of law
Economic and legal analyst at the Free Market Foundation Jacques Jonker told MyBroadband that the decision to ban alcohol with immediate effect is problematic.
He claimed that the government had not gazetted the regulations at the time of the announcement.
“Granted, it was published soon after his speech, but these technicalities matter from a legal standpoint since it speaks to government’s constant undermining of the Constitution and the Rule of Law,” Jonker said.
“It offends the very notion that the law should, at least in theory, only punish individuals and entirely suspend certain freedoms based on their own conduct and not that of others.”
“Individuals’ freedom should not be dependent on the conduct of criminal elements within society,” he said.
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