Underage drinking identified as a problem, but more details needed on what the ANC led government plans to do about it

While President Cyril Ramaphosa noted that young people are abusing alcohol in South Africa while delivering the January 8 Statement in Bloemfontein yesterday, the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (SAAPA SA) is eagerly waiting for government to reveal what exactly they plan to do about reducing alcohol harm in South Africa in 2023.

SAAPA SA and its Alliance Partners are encouraged that in the opening of Ramaphosa’s speech he acknowledges that young South Africans are turning to drugs and alcohol, he did not however reveal how he and his cabinet would address alcohol harm and its negative impact on communities.

“While it is an improvement on last year when alcohol harm was not even mentioned at all in the January 8 Statement, merely acknowledging that there is a problem will not save lives or reduce alcohol harm, “said Terri-Liza Fortein the Communications Manager for SAAPA SA.

We need swift and urgent action to change the situation in our communities. In June we saw the Enyobeni tragedy resulting in the deaths of 21 children under the age of 18 in a tavern. Following this incident SAAPA SA implored the president to act urgently to avoid a repeat of such a tragedy and on Christmas day last year 2 more children died in a tavern in Hofmeyr.

“The Liquor Amendment Bill of 2017 must be passed urgently. The clauses in the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill proposing that alcohol can be sold at school functions must be scrapped and enforcement of existing laws must be bolstered if we are to reduce alcohol harm and its impact, ” Fortein added.

We must take measures to reduce the abuse of alcohol through a combination of legislative and other measures including community mobilisation and support to reduce alcohol harm in communities.

We also need to acknowledge the structural and institutional drivers of the harmful use of alcohol. The ANC led government must also recognise and address the need to rein in the alcohol industry.

Often government in its messaging focuses on the behaviour of individuals by calling for ‘responsible drinking’, much like the liquor industry. Trying to relieve themselves of responsibility.

From the World Health Organisation (WHO) to leading public health researchers and practitioners across the globe, the message is clear: robust government intervention is needed to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and limit the negative social impact of alcohol on the lives of people and communities across the world. Much as the alcohol industry would love to self-regulate, it will never adopt measures that will threaten their profits. It is only government – through effective legislation and enforcement of that legislation, together with the support of communities empowered to have a meaningful influence over when, where and how alcohol is sold and consumed in their neighbourhoods – that has the authority and the capacity to ensure the realisation of an alcohol-safer country. 

From 1 December 2022 to 3 January 2023 the Road Traffic Management Corporation reports that 2,241 motorists had been arrested for, among other things, drunken driving, high speed, driving without licences and violation of permits. 611,000 vehicles were stopped and checked. Drunk driving has been a leading cause of arrests, with 324 motorists being detained.

High temperatures and the festive season has seen people flocking to beaches to enjoy swimming and other activities.

Over the long weekend (31 December – 02 January), revellers rang in the New Year on beaches across the Western Cape. Law enforcement officers had their hands full ensuring order in these public spaces, especially where alcohol was involved.

An unfortunate consequence to these “festivities” was the number of children separated from their parents or guardians. Worryingly, this happens every year.

When President Ramaphosa takes the podium on 9 February to deliver the State of the Nation Address he needs to announce concrete and urgent measures to reduce alcohol harm and hopefully announce a whole government multi-faceted plan to reduce alcohol harm and it needs to be a priority.

South Africans have been waiting many years for legislation that can really make a difference and significantly reduce alcohol harm. Many have died and been negatively impacted. The countries coffers have been affected as alcohol harm costs the fiscus, we cannot afford to wait any longer.

The South African Alcohol Policy Alliance is very clear we expect President Ramaphosa to address alcohol harm and we won’t wait any longer. We are tired of waiting. The children left behind by caregivers who engage in harmful drinking at the beach are tired of waiting. Those who have lost loved ones or been disabled by drivers who drink and then drove, and cause accidents are tired of waiting and the families of the now 23 teenagers who died in taverns last year are tired of waiting.

For more information contact Terri-Liza Fortein Communications Manager for SAAPA SA on 0799765489 or Terri-Liza.Fortein@saapa.africa