The National Command Committee made two controversial decisions when they mandated new laws under the Disaster Management Act.
The first was a ban on the sale of tobacco, which has now led to court proceedings.
The second was a ban on the sale of alcohol, which has inspired a number of liquor store robberies, creative booze delivery services in the ‘burbs and pleas to reverse the decision for the sake of small businesses and tax revenue.
On the other side of the debate, some sound arguments have been made that heavy drinking weakens the immune system, can affect existing respiratory conditions, encourages gathering in large groups at bars and shebeens, and leads to an increase in rates of gender-based violence and violence towards children.
But, according to Hellen Ndlovu, director of regulatory and public policy at South African Breweries (SAB), history has told us that alcohol bans can have unintended consequences.
She spoke to BusinessTech about SAB’s bid to persuade the government to reverse the ban.
“The lessons learned from the US Prohibition are eerily relevant when we unpack the unintended consequences the ban on alcohol distribution and sales have had in our country over the last 5 weeks,” Ndlovu said.
When we think back to the prohibition in the United States between 1920 and 1933, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t a sober nation, but rather speakeasies and illicit alcohol trade.
Ndlovu draws on this to make some compelling arguments for appealing the ban.
South Africa also has a booming illicit alcohol market that accounts for roughly R13 billion a year, and tax losses of over R6 billion. Brewing and buying alcohol is forbidden, and yet people are still brewing and buying alcohol.
The avocado is no longer the county’s most popular fruit. Instead, pineapples, a fruit commonly used for making booze at home, has been flying off the shelves.
This creates a supply and demand chain that’s growing the illicit alcohol trade and causing a spike in liquor store robberies which in turn encumbers the police force and legal system.
SAB has therefore put forward a plan to reopen the sale of alcohol under strict regulations:
- Allowing licensed off-consumption outlets to sell beer subject to strict social distancing requirements and within restricted hours of trade.
- Allowing licensed on-consumption outlets to be granted a special dispensation to operate strictly as off-consumption outlets subject to the strict social distancing requirements and within restricted hours of trade.This includes Licensed taverns to support the township economy
- Restriction on volumes sold per consumer to avoid irresponsible consumption
- Placing hand sanitisers at outlets to ensure good hygiene practices.
- Allowing for online ordering and delivery of beer with strict quantity controls in place
They’re also proposing restricted hours of trade. On weekdays, one would be able to buy booze between 9AM and 6PM. On Saturdays, liquor sales will be possible between 9AM and 4PM, with no sales on Sundays.
These suggestions have been submitted to President Ramaphosa, along with proposals on how to keep the industry alive.
Much like the tobacco industry’s arguments for allowing cigarette sales, we’ll have to wait and see.
As an aside, despite lockdown, we can still expect an excellent 2020 vintage when it comes to wine, so that’s something to look forward to.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll be sipping on something that wasn’t formerly a pineapple before too long.
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