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South Africans are a resourceful bunch, and tales of bootlegging in the ‘burbs have been doing the rounds for a while now.
How many bottles of wine is a pack of Stuyvesant Blues worth? I guess that depends on who you ask, but WhatsApp and Facebook community groups have seen all sorts of transactions take place.
Still, for many businesses and would-be drinkers, the alcohol ban has seen the taps run dry, and the BBC’s Andrew Harding decided to take a closer look at whether it’s working.
I guess that depends on how you define ‘working’, but let’s start with what weekend binge-drinking can often lead to:
Police, medics and analysts estimate – conservatively – that alcohol is involved in, or responsible for, at least 40% of all emergency hospital admissions.
In normal times some 34,000 trauma cases arrive at emergency departments in South Africa every week.
But since the nationwide lockdown came into force last month to prevent the spread of coronavirus, that figure has plummeted, dramatically, by roughly two thirds, to about 12,000 admissions.
“It’s a significant impact,” said Professor Charles Parry, with some understatement.
If you cup your hand to your ear, you might be able to hear Minister of Police Bheki Cele licking his lips at the prospect of banning alcohol sales altogether, which he has routinely talked about with glee in recent times.
He has more pressing matters to deal with, so back to Parry and his reasoned response:
“If we end the prohibition on alcohol sales, we’re going to see about 5,000 alcohol admissions in trauma units coming back into the system [each week],” he predicted.
The fact that those 5,000 extra hospital beds now stand empty could soon prove invaluable if the pandemic – which has been held, impressively, in check here for several weeks – begins to spread again exponentially, as government advisors predict it may.
Parry also adds that heavy drinking weakens the immune system, can affect existing respiratory conditions, encourages gathering in large groups at bars and taverns, and leads to an uptick in gender-based violence and violence towards children.
Still, the unease and frustration around the ban has grown steadily, and complaints about the infringement of some basic rights, and businesses being brought to their knees, are beginning to dominate many social media discussions.
Ask anyone who runs a craft brewery and they’ll tell you just how tough the last few weeks have been:
“It’s not looking good at all,” said Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, the country’s first black female brewery owner and chair of South Africa’s Beer Association, who fears her small business may go under if the ban continues for much longer…
“It could be game over for us,” agreed Nick Smith, an American who owns a craft brewery outside Cape Town.
“This one-size-fits-all rule is having a major impact on smaller businesses like ours,” added Mr Smith.
This country’s wine producers also have their backs against the wall, losing around R200 million a week due to the export ban in place.
Another common argument is the loss of tax revenue for the country, with black market dealings costing SARS billions, as criminal networks capitalise on a demand that will never go away.
The more desperate have been looking at ways to brew their own liquor at home, with ‘how to make alcohol’ showing a huge spike in Google search results.
Going forward, we know that lockdowns will more than likely be a part of South African life for at least two to three years, although you would imagine that those intermittent lockdowns would have more relaxed regulations around the sale of liquor.
You would hope so, because patience seems to be wearing thin, and government needs the buy-in from the public to have any kind of success in curbing the spread of COVID-19.
Read the full BBC article here.
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