A couple in South Africa has died, after both allegedly consumed their own home brewed beer. Home brewing has increased strongly in the African country after the government ordered on March 26 a strict lockdown and banned sale, purchase and transport of alcohol in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to limit social contacts.
Google said that “how to brew homemade alcohol” was amongst their top internet searches in South Africa and production of home brewed alcoholic pineapple beer has increased rapidly with ten times as many pineapples now being bought than before the alcohol ban.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has not only banned alcohol but also cigarettes, is refusing all calls to relax the hugely unpopular bans. Initially he announced, it would only last 3 weeks but now it has been rolled over twice. The strict ban is heavily disputed even within the government. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said earlier this week: “I don’t like the ban on alcohol and tobacco. I lost the debate in Cabinet and therefore I must toe the line or I must leave the Cabinet”.
While unable to sell, store or transport beer, South African Breweries (SAB) pleaded with government to allow them to transport their beer to storage as they could no longer keep it on the brewery grounds due to capacity laws. As the request was ignored SAB’s Pretoria brewery disposed of 25 000 liters of beer with millions expected to be dumped over the next few weeks.
President Ramaphosa claims that the decrease in excess deaths in South Africa is proofing the success of his strict measures. And indeed the country reports about 5,000 fewer admissions to trauma units per week which usually result from accidents and violence attributed to drunkenness. But experts question if this positive trend can be maintained over a longer period since the history of prohibition especially in the USA in the last century shows that a ban on alcohol cannot be extended eternally. The longer the ban lasts people within a country demand more loudly access to their universal pleasure-giver and painkiller and find ways to circumvent the regulations.
After India and Thailand (inside.beer, 3.5.2020) recently lifted similar bans, only South Africa, Sri Lanka and Panama are reported to have nationwide prohibition to fight COVID-19.
Concerning the reported deaths, South African Police confirmed that “a 42-year-old woman was found dead in a flat and 54-year-old man was found in extreme pain and subsequently died in hospital (…). Two empty bottles of homemade brew have been seized for forensic tests.”
Experts, however, doubt that a normal homebrew can cause death as long as no poisonous ingredients are used. Other than distilling where wrong handling can produce toxic methanol, home brewing is usually safe even for lay persons.