Only a few weeks after a three month ban on alcohol was lifted, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa reinstated the controversial measure in order to free-up hospital beds occupied by those suffering from alcohol-related traumas. There is “clear evidence” that a resumption of alcohol sales “has resulted in substantial pressure being put on hospitals, including trauma and ICU units, due to motor vehicle accidents, violence and related trauma”, the president said in a speech on Sunday night. “As we head towards the peak of infections, it is vital that we do not burden our clinics and hospitals with alcohol-related injuries that could have been avoided,” he said.
The first ban on alcohol was imposed as part of a lockdown the government instituted on March 27 (inside.beer, 8.5.2020) and was lifted on June 1. As a result, South Africa’s death rate from unnatural causes plunged from 1,200 in January to 400 by the end of April, the lowest on record according to data compiled by the South African Medical Research Council. South Africa was one of the few countries were the so-called excess death rate decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ban revealed an underlying problem in South Africa that binge drinking is a widespread scourge in the country on the southern tip of the African continent. Although sales were still restricted to the first four days of the week after the ban was lifted, stabbings, road accidents and gunshot injuries, have again surged.
However, the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said president Ramaphosa was using the alcohol ban as a scapegoat for his failure to provide adequate health care.
Also South African industry groups including the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA), the South African Liquor Brandowners’ Association (SALBA), the Liquor Traders Council of South Africa (LTCSA), the Liquor Traders Association of South Africa (LTASA), and VinPro, argued the renewed ban on sales of alcohol would have a “disastrous economic impact on the industry and continue to exacerbate the loss of excise revenue” affecting up to one million people working as part of the “liquor industry value chain”. It is estimated that during the nine-week lockdown, the South African alcohol industry has lost ZAR 18 billion (USD 1,08bn) in revenue and ZAR 3.4 billion (USD 200 million) in excise tax.
The industry groups also argue that the ban will “fuel the growth in the illicit liquor market” which will have adverse effects to the public health and security if maintained over a longer period. They point to the negative effects in the United States during the prohibition in the 1930s.