Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has published an opinion piece on the importance of smart interventions in addressing alcohol harms in South Africa.
The interventions being considered by the Western Cape Government are aimed at ensuring that the alcohol industry survives the Covid-19 pandemic and is not hit by an unemployment pandemic.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the reintroduction of the alcohol ban on 12 July after a sharp increase in trauma cases resulted in additional pressure on the country’s healthcare systems.
Winde, however, said a sustained, long-term alcohol ban does not address the root problems and will not solve the alcohol problem that South Africa faces.
The Western Cape government’s proposed interventions seek to address the issues of alcohol harms and at the time, saving jobs.
“We must balance how we respond to this pandemic so that our healthcare systems have sufficient beds to cope, while ensuring people in this province are able to work, earn a salary and put food on the table for themselves and their families.”
“This is why the Western Cape government has established an Alcohol Harms Task Team, which will drive initiatives aimed at reducing the harms of alcohol on our society.”
The team will be led by the Department of Community Safety in the province, its focus areas will include:
- An independent study, through to determine the potential impact and feasibility of implementing a provincial excise tax and minimum price per unit of pure alcohol (MUP) in the Western Cape.
- The research evidence advised against a provincial excise tax, with its primary impact being on moderate drinkers, with little significant impact on the most problematic categories of heavy and binge drinking.
- It did, however, indicate the introduction of a minimum price per unit of pure alcohol would have the desired impact on these targeted heavy and binge drinkers.
- Legal advice in this regard confirmed that an MUP would fall within the legislative competence of the Western Cape government and would not violate either the Constitution or competition laws.
- Reducing the availability of alcohol by reducing the density of liquor outlets, trading times and limiting the sale of alcohol in large containers (such as 1l bottles of beer) has been shown to reduce the harms associated with alcohol in studies around the world.
Legislation and enforcement:
- The Western Cape government is currently boosting enforcement capacity by deploying Law Enforcement Advancement Programme (LEAP) officers to enforce liquor-related regulations.
- The province will also be tabling Liquor Act amendments which will address key enforcement issues, such as the confiscation and destruction of illegally sold liquor and enhancing the Liquor Authority’s capacity to hear enforcement cases.
- Currently, liquor which is confiscated from illegal traders is returned to them after paying an admission of guilt fine, rather than being destroyed. Similarly, licencing fees are the same whether you are a small trader or a wholesaler, essentially creating a situation where there are few consequences for illegal trade, and few incentives for illegal traders to become licenced.
- Any legislative changes need to be made in conjunction with the provision of social services, including education on addiction, addiction treatment and support to the victims of gender-based violence (GBV), which is commonly linked to alcohol abuse in the home.