New local government representatives should address alcohol harm

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in South Africa (SAAPA SA) calls on all freshly-elected ward and PR councillors to make sure that reducing alcohol harm in the communities they serve is near the top of their delivery agenda as they take up their new positions.

South Africans went to the polls on 1 November and, though the turnout was low, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was able to declare the elections free, fair and successful. While well-known parties such as the ANC, DA, EFF and IFP dominated the proceedings, newcomers such as Action SA had good results, a community-based organisation in Makana came third, and a number of independents won seats. In the lead-up to the poll, all candidates promised to serve their constituencies well if they were elected.

10 461 councillors across the country will now have the task of living up to those promises. SAAPA SA congratulates them all and wishes them well as they take on their duties. In doing so, we would like to remind them that alcohol-related harm is a real and challenging problem that takes place in the very neighbourhoods they have been elected to serve. We encourage them to ensure they do whatever is possible within their mandate to make those neighbourhoods are alcohol-safer for the people who live, work and play in them.

The harmful use of alcohol is a notable social problem in South Africa with significant adverse public health implications. For example, the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) estimates that 80% of South African male youth deaths are alcohol-related. In 60% of domestic violence cases, women report that alcohol was involved. The over-abundance of alcohol in many areas disrupts the lives of people living there, infringing on their right to a safe and peaceful environment. The excessive use of alcohol can lead to impulsive behaviour and poor judgement. It contributes to risky sexual behaviour, increasing the chances of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and it can cause non-communicable diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver, different kinds of cancer, and neurological and chronic memory disorders.

In the build-up to the election, many parties launched manifestos in which they made certain commitments, some related to the issue of substance abuse. The African National Congress (ANC), for example, committed its representatives to dealing urgently with the unacceptable levels of alcohol and other drug abuse, especially among the youth. The Democratic Alliance (DA) said their councillors would work with other spheres of government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to develop a strategy to provide mental health support, and to combat alcohol and drug abuse. In its manifesto, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) vowed to strengthen law enforcement to protect the vulnerable and to improve the health and social services in the communities they serve. Other parties and candidates made similar commitments, some didn’t mention alcohol at all.

“It is our sincere hope that our politicians in the local government sphere make good on their election promises and use the power they have to address the impact of alcohol harm in South African communities,” said Maurice Smithers, Director of SAAPA SA.

There are a number of things councillors can do to help reduce alcohol-related harm in their communities.

Schedule 5B of the Constitution says that municipalities are responsible for Control of undertakings that sell liquor to the public. Some local governments have passed specific by-laws to help them carry out that mandate. But there are many other by-laws relating to planning, public health, environmental health and other issues that can be used. Councillors can help to improve the health, safety and well-being of their constituents by insisting that their municipalities take this responsibility seriously.

A key challenge at the moment is that forecourt shops at petrol stations are applying for liquor licences. Councillors can play an important role in raising awareness about this in their communities and in opposing applications for such licences. The selling of alcohol at petrol stations is likely to increase alcohol-related harm in communities and will also be taking away business from small, existing entrepreneurs in their neighbourhoods.

The issuing of liquor licences is a provincial responsibility. However, local governments have the right to object to licence applications if they are likely to contravene local legislation, undermine municipal planning and/or cause harm to the residents of their municipalities. Local authorities can also ensure that unlicensed outlets are identified and steps taken to close them down.

Councillors can also play an active role in ensuring that communities are informed of their rights – for example, most South Africans don’t know they have the right to object to a liquor licence application or how to find out if a licence has been applied for in their neighbourhood. Councillors can ensure that their constituents are aware of their rights and that they know when a licence has been applied for, enabling them to object should they wish to do so. Constituents should also be assisted to complain if an existing outlet is operating in an anti-social way and causing problems for the community – the law says such a place can be fined or even have their licence cancelled.

Finally, national government can pass legislation that guides the whole country on how to control alcohol and reduce alcohol-related harm. Councillors and their municipalities can join the call for the passing of the long-awaited Liquor Amendment Bill. If it becomes law, it will limit alcohol advertising, increase the legal drinking age, restrict trading hours, and help to limit the sale of alcohol by unlicensed outlets.

Councillors, it is your constituents who are most affected by the harmful use of alcohol. You can help improve their health, safety and well-being by working proactively to reduce the problematic sale and consumption of alcohol in the constituencies you serve. We encourage you to do so.

AlcoholSafeSA #PassLiquorBillsNow

For more information or interview requests, please contact
Terri-Liza Fortein, Communications, SAAPA SA or 079 9765 489
Maurice Smithers, Director, SAAPA SA 082 373 7705

Twitter: @saapa7