34,000 hospital beds occupied because of alcohol, says Bheki Cele

11 June 2020 - 17:58
By Zimasa Matiwane
Police minister Bheki Cele reiterated his stance on alcohol on Thursday.
Image: Esa Alexander Police minister Bheki Cele reiterated his stance on alcohol on Thursday.

While SA battles the spread of Covid-19, police minister Bheki Cele says the unbanning of alcohol has put a strain on the health system - and industry claims that the economy would suffer if the ban continued are not scientific. 

Cele claimed that 34,000 hospital beds around the country "are currently occupied because of alcohol-related cases".

"Yes, it cannot be banned forever - but for now we should have not opened it [sales]," he said. "Alcohol revenue is R1.6bn, but it costs the government R38bn to provide medical services for alcohol cases, so that revenue does not help us."

Cele estimated the number of drinkers in the country to be around one third of the adult population. He attributed calls to lift the ban on alcoholic beverages to "alcohol industry noise".

He branded booze a "curse" and confirmed that he was against the lifting of restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

The minister, who sits on the government’s national coronavirus command council, on Thursday addressed the ANC eThekwini region through an online lecture via Facebook.

"If you made me lead the country, the first thing I would do is to deal with alcohol," he said. "Show me someone who is nothing today because they did not drink. Me, I can show you Sifiso Zulu: he was my friend, he is six feet underground today because when he had an accident and killed three people, his life was never the same."

Zulu was a controversial Durban businessman who made headlines after he was convicted on charges of culpable homicide in 2010 after running a red robot while drunk. He died in 2015. 

To further demonstrate his strong desire for a sober SA, Cele said he wished he knew what he could "put in alcohol so that you can hate it".

He also debunked statements that sought to paint South Africans as innocent social drinkers. "There are no social drinkers in SA, especially those who don’t buy it. They are binge drinkers because they don’t know where their next drink will come from."

Cele said alcohol had a role to play in other crimes, but noted rape as the most pervasive. 

"Inanda is the capital of rape in this country. Data tells us the rapes are from shebeens. There were no rapes in Inanda during the alcohol ban, but the rapes are back now."

He said while livelihoods had to be preserved through opening up the economy, this could not be at the expense of lives.

The minister encouraged South Africans to continue practising precautionary measures, warning that the worst is yet to come.