Addressing alcohol harm must top government agenda save money and ensure an alcohol-safer South Africa

SAAPA SA appeals to the President to ensure that he makes clear government’s plans to address alcohol harm and reaffirms his party’s commitment to making South Africa alcohol-safer when he delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) today.

The ANC’s January 8 statement of 2021 was very direct in addressing the issue of the harmful use of alcohol, saying: “Throughout the country, communities are still confronted by high rates of crime and violence. The lack of safety threatens and undermines their sense of well-being and hampers social and economic development. Other social problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse, contribute to violence and cause many families great misery. We must be more direct in our efforts to reduce alcohol and substance abuse, which are major contributing factors in the perpetration of violence.”

President Ramaphosa is also on record in January 2021 as saying that increasing the age limit, reducing hours of trade, raising the tax on alcohol, and limiting advertising should all be considered as possible interventions to reduce the negative impact of harmful drinking. 

Despite these statements, very little has actually happened to address alcohol-related harm over the last year. Progress could and should have been made on processing the Liquor Amendment Bill that was approved by Cabinet for public comment in 2016. It contains a number of significant recommendations for reducing alcohol consumption and contributing to a safer country for all.

But there has been a lack of movement on the Bill since 2017 – it has still to be tabled in Parliament for consideration there and in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).

“This year there was no talk of legislative change in the President’s January 8 Statement. There is no talk of reducing alcohol harm. There is no role for government except in working with the youth on diversionary programmes, which would be great if it happened but probably won’t to the extent needed. It’s like the language of the alcohol industry. The youth and the community are expected to be active and do things, but nothing is said about addressing the structural and institutional drivers of alcohol-related harm, nothing additional is to be done to control the alcohol industry,” said Maurice Smithers, the Director of the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in South Africa (SAAPA SA).

According to Smithers, temporary restrictions put in place to manage COVID-19 infection levels have demonstrated that strengthened legislation is effective in reducing harmful drinking. What is needed, however, is permanent legislative change and not reactive temporary measures that don’t deal with social challenges effectively and consistently. 

“As an organisation, we find the absence of any reference to addressing alcohol harm in the January 8 Statement very, very disappointing after the robust call in last year’s Statement and the President’s follow-up newspaper interview in mid-January last year.” Smithers said.

SAAPA SA has already written to the President requesting that he priorities the strengthening of legislation to reduce alcohol harm and ensures his Ministers act collectively to ensure real change in 2022. 

“We will write to the president again and encourage our alliance partners and other civil society organisations to do the same. It is not acceptable that government has not acted more decisively on this issue and we need to ensure that we get that message across on behalf of the millions of South Africans impacted by alcohol harm each day through violence, sexual assault, road crashes and the lack of improvement in their quality of life because of the financial burden on the country’s fiscus as result of the harmful use of alcohol.”

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in South Africa wants government to:

Have the political will to address alcohol harm before 2024, not just to pay lip service to the issue.

Adopt a whole-of-government/coordinated approach to ensure an alcohol safer environment – it’s government’s ‘duty of care’ responsibility towards the people to do so

Put in place policies and programmes that put the people’s well-being before industry profits

Prioritising the reduction of alcohol harm is important now because:

Alcohol harm is a problem for South Africa in both social and financial terms – the tangible and intangible costs to the country in 2021 equate to 10-12% of the GDP, ie R400b

Alcohol harm is an obstacle to transformation, development and service delivery

Reducing alcohol harm will promote development of our country and our people

The alcohol industry has shown that it cannot be trusted to self-regulate, so government must step in and regulate the industry through effective legislation.

The industry continues to argue that tougher legislation will impact negatively on the economy, that businesses will close down and people will lose jobs – therefore, they say, there should be less regulation, not more. However, evidence shows that the negative cost of alcohol harm to the country is greater than the economic benefit the industry brings, and such a situation is not sustainable. 

Interventions by government do work and have been shown to reduce the negative impacts of alcohol:

As witnessed during COVID-19 temporary restrictions, here and in other parts of the world; and

As seen in in countries such as Russia, where the adoption of a package of policies has resulted in a 43% reduction in alcohol consumption and a 10-year increase in life expectancy

South Africans are tired of waiting – government must act now!

We demand new liquor laws before 2024!



For more information or interview requests, please contact:

Terri-Liza Fortein, Communications, SAAPA SA or 079 9765 489

Contact SAAPA SA Director Maurice Smithers on 082 373 7705

Website: Twitter: @saapa7

Editors, please note:

SAAPA SA will be holding a live demonstration near the Cape Town City Hall on 10 February from 3 to 6pm just before the SONA is delivered and we will be available for live interviews on the day