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Ramaphosa urged to tackle 'alcohol-related harm' after lockdown ends

09 February 2021 - 16:13 By Iavan Pijoos
Suggestions for lessening the harm cause by drunkenness include significantly increasing taxes on alcohol to make it less affordable and finalising laws now before parliament that will outlaw drinking and driving completely. Stock photo.
Suggestions for lessening the harm cause by drunkenness include significantly increasing taxes on alcohol to make it less affordable and finalising laws now before parliament that will outlaw drinking and driving completely. Stock photo.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has been urged to spell out in his state of the nation address (Sona) what practical steps the government will take to ensure a “sustained reduction in alcohol-related harm” after the lockdown is lifted.

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (Saapa SA) put the request to  Ramaphosa in a letter on Friday.

“We cannot afford for it to be ‘business as usual’ once the pandemic is over, given everything we have learnt about alcohol harm during our battle against Covid-19 over the past year,” the organisation said on Tuesday.

The plea comes as data showed hospital trauma admissions in Gauteng shot up at the weekend — the first since the latest alcohol ban was lifted. Footage of partygoers ignoring lockdown safety protocols have also raised hackles in many quarters.

“In our letter, we asked the president to highlight the challenges the country faces with respect to the harmful use of alcohol and how government might address them,” said Saapa director Maurice Smithers. These included:

  • Significantly increasing excise tax annually to make alcohol less affordable and discourage excessive drinking.
  • Finalising the Road Traffic Amendment Bill, now before parliament, which aims to outlaw drinking and driving completely.
  • The dependence of restaurants and the tourism industries on alcohol for economic survival. “A new business model is needed to change this to mitigate the affect of restrictions that may happen in the future.” Small subsistence traders in alcohol needed help migrating to more sustainable, socially beneficial ways to make a living, thereby reducing the number of alcohol outlets.
  • Empowering communities to play an effective role in deciding where, when and how alcohol should be sold and consumed in their neighbourhoods.
  • Processing the Liquor Amendment Bill as a first step towards implementing the national liquor policy approved by the cabinet in 2016.

“The majority of people are tired of having to deal with the consequences of the harmful use of alcohol. The economic interests of the alcohol industry and their collaborators cannot take precedence over the public health, safety and wellbeing of our people. We would like to hear, in the Sona, a public commitment by government as a whole to the comprehensive implementation of the liquor policy of 2016 and to making SA an alcohol-safe country for all,” said Saapa.

The SA Medical Research Council's Prof Charles Parry said on Tuesday the culture of  “heavy drinking” in SA needed to be addressed.

Parry, director of the council's Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit, said a clear plan of action with clear targets and empowered leaders was needed to combat alcohol abuse.

“We have legislation that hasn’t been passed for many years,” he said.

Also needing attention was the “cheap price” of alcohol and minimum unit pricing. “You can buy alcohol for under R5 a standard drink. We need to look at very cheap alcohol and our marketing regulations. We also have a lot of illicit sales of alcohol and we need to address the selling of alcohol in unregulated ways.”

Parry said they were looking at “QR codes on alcohol containers” to better control the sale of alcohol through unlicensed outlets.

In a viral video at the weekend, partygoers were shown ignoring lockdown regulations in the Eastern Cape.

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DispatchLIVE reported on Monday that Buffalo City metro took action against the establishment that held the party.

Metro spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said at the time that the management had admitted to contravening lockdown regulations and paid a R5,000 fine for exceeding the maximum number of customers allowed on the premises.

The Gauteng health department said on Tuesday that since the most recent alcohol ban was lifted, hospitals had observed a spike in trauma cases.

In an interview with 702 on Tuesday, provincial health DDG Freddy Kgongwana said that on February 1 hospitals had about 180 trauma cases. This increased to more than 500 at the weekend.

Gauteng Liquor Board spokesperson Thabo Modise said an interim measure could be off-site sales of alcohol.

“Our view is that we need and recommended an off-sale consumption because we have spoken about a third wave that is coming. We recommended that on-site establishments should also trade as off-site places and that will make the situation better. Off-site consumption will be ideal for us.”