Time is running out to keep our schools alcohol free

The deadline for submitting objections to the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill of 2021 is fast approaching – South Africans have until 15 August to make their voices heard.

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (SAAPA SA) has noted with concern the inclusion in the BELA Bill of a recommendation that liquor be allowed on school premises, and at school functions on and off school premises, for purposes of fund-raising. This is an issue of concern because of the multiple risks this poses to learners at schools.

Youth drinking and alcohol harm needs to be reduced in South Africa as we have seen with the Enyobeni tavern tragedy. South Africans must utilise this opportunity to protect children from alcohol harm and prevent further normalisation of alcohol in our communities.

Children and youth are already unwitting victims of the harmful use of alcohol. They are vulnerable to physical and psychological abuse, deprivation of adequate sustenance, and a lack of adequate education, all as a consequence of the harmful use of alcohol in their homes and their communities.

Learners already encounter alcohol harm within their communities, very often on their way to and from school, passing large numbers of liquor outlets, some of which are a stone’s throw from their schools, in defiance of legislation in provinces such as Gauteng which says that there should be no liquor licences within 500m of an educational institution.

In Northern Cape, during hearings by the Portfolio Committee on the Children’s Amendment Bill, parents and community members complained, unprompted, of the already existing risks for learners associated with alcohol in the community.

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education has called for written and oral submissions on the Bill which are due by 15 August 2022. It is a comprehensive Bill, proposing changes to multiple laws and addressing a wide range of critical educational issues. SAAPA SA is concerned that not enough has been done to ensure that everyone in the country is aware of the Bill and of their right to comment on it as individuals and as organisations.

“We are encouraging as many people and organisations as possible to participate in this critical process, the outcome of which will affect almost every family in the country, now and going forward into the future,” SAAPA SA Executive Director Maurice Smithers said.

“We also want to emphasise that we are not rejecting the Bill in its entirety – we are not competent to do that as we are not directly involved in education policy in general. Our concern is restricted to the liquor sections of the Bill and we are calling for a return to the proposal in the 2015 version of the Bill which called for liquor to be banned on school premises, along with ‘dangerous weapons’, ‘illegal drugs’, and ‘other prohibited substances’, the first two of which were first prohibited in the BELA Act of 2007. However, we do concede that, in some schools, there may be adults – teachers, admin staff, security personnel or caretakers – living on the premises and, in such instances, it is reasonable to allow them to have alcohol in their private living quarters, subject to strict conditions,” Smithers adds.

Section 28 of the Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights and says in subsections 1(c) and 1(d) that every child has the right to basic nutrition; shelter; basic health care services and social services; and the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation. Section 29 of the Constitution, also part of the Bill of Rights, says in subsection (1)(a) that everyone has the right to a basic education.

If we put the two together, it is reasonable to suggest that the section 29 basic education, to which children are entitled, must also take into account section 28, especially subsection (d), which promotes the protection of children from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation. However, it is clear from everything we hear during Child Protection Week every year – from government and civil society – that we as a country are failing to provide this protection, and that the harmful use of alcohol by those around them – adults in particular – denies children the rights enshrined in 28(1)(c) and (d).

Furthermore, the 29(1)(a) right to basic education surely implies that adequate resources must be made available in order for that right to be realised – it is therefore incorrect that schools are not provided adequate resources, such that they have to turn to having alcohol on school premises to bolster their fund-raising activities. Furthermore, the type of basic education offered must take into account subsections 28(1)(c) and (d).

The position of SAAPA SA and its more than 70 civil society Alliance Partners is clear – alcohol has no place in our schools! – and we call on learners, parents, teachers and other school staff, as well as community members generally, to voice their opposition, through whatever means possible, to the liquor clauses in the Bill that will legitimise the use of alcohol on school premises and during school activities.

South Africans can access the BELA Bill and related documents at https://pmg.org.za/bill/1055/. They can write to Parliament to say they don’t want alcohol in schools – belabill02@parliament.gov.za – or send written objections by 15 August addressed to Ms B P Mbinqo-Gigaba, Chairperson, Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, Parliament, Cape Town and emailed, for the attention of Portfolio Committee Secretary Llewellyn Brown, to lbrown@parliament.gov.za.

We also encourage everyone to sign the SAAPA SA ‘Say NO! to alcohol in schools’ petition at https://bit.ly/3NAZR2i. SAAPA SA can be reached via www.saapa.africa or info.southafrica@saapa.africa.

For more information:
Terri-Liza Fortein, Advocacy and Communication Manager: terri-liza.fortein@saapa.africa and 079 976 5489
Justice Neswiswi, Project Manager: justice.neswiswi@saapa.africa and 084 682 9787
Maurice Smithers, Executive Director: maurice.smithers@saapa.africa and 082 373 7705