South Africa cleans up its liquor act

Long labelled as a country drinking itself to death, South Africa appears to be reaching for a babalaas remedy by clamping down on liquor sales and raising the legal drinking age to 21.

On Monday October 3, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies announced a draft amendments to the Liquor Act, in Parliament. Apart from raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21, the state also wants to make manufacturers of alcohol to unlicensed retailers liable for accidents that lead to injury or death.

Mr Davies claimed South Africa has the highest level of alcohol “consumption of between 10 to 12 percent compared to the world average of 6 percent”.

However, it’s not clear exactly what these percentages refer to and Mr Davies didn’t cite a source for this data. When Tabletalk sought clarity from the minister’s spokesman, Sidwell Medupe, he claimed the figures came from the World Health Organisation (WHO), but he could no cite a specific report.

Africa Check says it tried to verify Mr Davies’s claim and found the minister got his facts wrong.

Africa Check cites a WHO report that found the country ranked 31st highest of 195 countries for total alcohol consumed per capita (11 litres per person) in 2010. Belarus took the top spot with a per capita consumption of 17.5 litres.

WHO data shows that global average alcohol consumption was 6.3 litres per person in 2010.

In Africa, average alcohol consumption was 6 litres per person. So while the country may not have the highest alcohol consumption in the world there’s no argument that it is still disturbingly high.

Mr Davies said that alcohol-related health care is estimated to cost the country R37.9 billion annually.

“South Africa has a significant problem of alcohol abuse. The figures are telling us that it’s not getting better. More drastic measures are needed for this very serious national problem,” said Mr Davies.

“We are also the highest with regards to Foetal Alcohol Syndrome in the world, and 41 percent of the injuries are from incidents related to alcohol consumption. The situation is getting worse. It can’t just be business as usual,” said Mr Davies.

The proposed restrictions will include a ban on liquor outlets at petrol service stations and at public transport hubs. Those selling or supplying alcohol will be held liable for checking the customer is 21 or older.

Liquor ads aimed at those under the legal age will be banned. Adverts will also have to carry warnings about the harmful effects of alcohol.

Liquor billboards will not be allowed within 100m of junctions, street corners and traffic circles, while the manufacture, distribution or sale of liquor in both rural and urban communities will be prohibited within 500m of schools, places of worship, recreational facilities, rehabilitation and treatment centres, public institutions and other amenities.

The proposals have met with many nods of approval, but have raised questions in some quarters, including Table View, about whether they will ultimately have an impact on the country’s alcohol abuse problem.

Salt Projects director, Pauline de Klerk, which hosts an alcohol abuse support group in Table View believes the amendments if made law would likely only work in the suburbs and not in the townships.

“The changes are wonderful, but they have to take it further. There is no law to enforce the changes in the townships; if it is policed properly then it will make a difference.

“If not policed properly, you can make the limit 35 and it will make no difference. The majority of our youth get alcohol in illegal places,” said Ms De Klerk.

Table View Liquor City manager George Calaça questioned how the law would be monitored in stores.

“I agree with the change 100 percent, but I don’t know how they will do it. It’s a real difficult one. People who are 18 can vote, but they can’t have a drink, it will cause a lot of friction,” said Mr Calaça.

Tony Garcia of Tony’s Bottle Store in West Beach believes the new laws will be beneficial because people will be at more responsible age to make decisions about drinking.

“I think it’s a good thing, we [bottle stores] will lose more, but responsible drinking is necessary. It works in the UK and younger people drink and drive because they’re not mature enough to know that they’re doing wrong,” said Mr Garcia.

The liquor bill is open for public comment until Monday November 14 and the National Gambling Amendment Bill can be accessed on the dti website through the link:http://www.thedti.gov.za/gazzettes/40320.pdf and the National Liquor Amendment Bill on: http://www.thedti.gov.za/gazettes/40319.pdf.