Cape Times


- AADIELAH MAKER DIEDERICKS Maker Diedericks is the re­gional co­or­di­na­tor of the South­ern African Al­co­hol Pol­icy Al­liance

AL­CO­HOL is a le­gal drug and clas­si­fied by the In­ter­na­tional Agency for Re­search on Al­co­hol as a group 1 car­cino­gen linked to 7 can­cers, road crashes and in­ter­per­sonal vi­o­lence. As a pro­fes­sor of Com­mu­nity Medicine and Health Care at the Univer­sity of Con­necti­cut, Thomas Bar­bor has noted, al­co­hol is, there­fore, ‘no or­di­nary com­mod­ity’ and re­quires ef­fec­tive reg­u­la­tion.

Con­sum­ing al­co­hol is a choice. Within a democ­racy, the choice is a fun­da­men­tal right. But democ­racy also comes with ba­sic rules of gov­er­nance and all busi­nesses, whether they sell al­co­hol or not, should be re­quired to fol­low ba­sic busi­ness rules such as hav­ing a busi­ness li­cense, a health and safety cer­tifi­cate with open­ing and clos­ing hours and pay­ing taxes. Gov­ern­ment made the right choice to ban the avail­abil­ity of al­co­hol.

The South­ern African Al­co­hol Pol­icy Al­liance (SAAPA) South Africa sup­ports in­creased re­stric­tion of al­co­hol avail­abil­ity in line with the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion Global Strat­egy to Re­duce Al­co­hol Harm of 2010 as a means to re­duce al­co­hol­re­lated health and so­cial harm. 171 peo­ple die ev­ery day due to al­co­hol. Al­co­hol at­trib­ut­able harm costs South Africa be­tween R246 and R280 bil­lion an­nu­ally.

SAAPA SA sup­ported the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion for three key rea­sons. Firstly, most peo­ple ac­cess al­co­hol where they live, from she­beens which are too small to pro­mote phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing and do not have run­ning wa­ter or ablu­tion fa­cil­i­ties to en­sure hy­giene.

Se­condly, the well-doc­u­mented binge drink­ing cul­ture in SA re­sults in the in­tox­i­ca­tion that has been shown to im­pact on in­hi­bi­tions and judge­ment, which could lead to drinkers not fol­low­ing Covid-19 pro­tec­tive mea­sures. It is also the norm for drinkers to share drink­ing bot­tles and glasses, which again would make them vul­ner­a­ble. Thirdly, the health sys­tem needed to be ‘freed’ up. Prior to Covid-19, as much as 30% of hospi­tal ad­mis­sions were al­co­hol-re­lated.

Al­co­hol avail­abil­ity would, there­fore, have taken peo­ple out of their homes, go­ing against the very mes­sage of ‘Stay Home’ in the at­tempt to con­tain the virus.

The ban on al­co­hol sales has shown ben­e­fits and valu­able lessons for reg­u­la­tion. The health sys­tem has had fewer al­co­hol-at­trib­ut­able hospi­tal ad­mis­sions. For ex­am­ple, Groote Schuur Hospi­tal has re­ported 66% fewer trauma ad­mis­sions. Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics re­leased by the Min­is­ter of Po­lice on April 25, 2020, there was a re­duc­tion in con­tact crime i.e. at­tempted mur­der cases from 1300 to 443, rape cases from 2908 to 371, as­sault GBV cases from 11 876 to 1758 and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases by 69.4%. While th­ese pos­i­tive out­comes can­not be fully at­trib­uted to the ban on al­co­hol sales, it has con­trib­uted sig­nif­i­cantly.

Covid-19 also high­lighted a fes­ter­ing prob­lem long ig­nored by the gov­ern­ment as a whole and its en­force­ment agen­cies. There are too many liquor out­lets in gen­eral and a large num­ber of il­le­gal out­lets in res­i­den­tial ar­eas sell­ing al­co­hol 24/7, mak­ing life for res­i­dents in­tol­er­a­ble. Thus, she­beens and tav­erns have be­come part of ‘town­ship cul­ture’.

A 2017 study in Khayelit­sha, com­mis­sioned by the West­ern Cape gov­ern­ment, found 1045 out­lets, of which only 11% were trad­ing legally, with peo­ple liv­ing within

3- 5 min­utes walk­ing dis­tance from their near­est al­co­hol out­let. Re­search shows that easy ac­cess to al­co­hol en­cour­ages con­sump­tion. The gov­ern­ment has demon­strated that it can take ac­tion in the in­ter­est of pub­lic health.

The po­lice have shown that they can en­force liquor laws – although they need train­ing in re­straint, in peo­ple man­age­ment, and in re­spect­ing hu­man rights. The pro­vin­cial liquor au­thor­i­ties have re­voked the li­censes of those who con­tra­vened the State of Dis­as­ter reg­u­la­tions. Most im­por­tantly, South Africans have said they need al­co­hol to be bet­ter reg­u­lated.

It can­not be busi­ness as usual with re­gard to harm­ful drink­ing and its neg­a­tive im­pacts. The gains made in cre­at­ing an al­co­hol safe South Africa dur­ing this pe­riod need to be held and we im­plore the gov­ern­ment to seize the mo­ment and adopt the Liquor Amend­ment Bill.

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