South Africa: Alcohol Sales Ban Leads to Violence Reduction

The alcohol sales ban during the COVID-19 lockdown has faced unrelenting opposition from the alcohol industry since the beginning of its enforcement in South Africa. But the government is maintaining a strong stance for the ban. And early evidence shows it is working, as the country sees a major reduction in violence.

Weeks into the lockdown, movement restrictions and the alcohol sales ban, police minister Bheki Cele reported on the positive outcomes regarding violence reductions comparing to the same time period, last year.

Crime statistics revealed, between March 29 and April 22 last year compared with March 27 and April 20 this year,

  • Murder cases dropped from 1542 to 432 showing a decrease of 72% (1110 decrease),
  • Rape cases dropped from 2908 to 371, showing an 87,2% decrease (2537 decrease),
  • Attempted murder decreased from 1300 to 443, showing a 65,9% decrease (857 decrease),
  • Assault GBH decreased from 11,876 to 1 758, showing a 85,2% decrease (10,118 decrease), and
  • Robbery with aggravating circumstances decreased from 6654 to 2022, showing a 69,6% decrease (4632 decrease)

For trio crimes:

  • Carjacking dropped from 1146 to 219, showing a 80,9% decrease (927 decrease),
  • Robbery at non-residential premises decreased from 1345 to 464, showing a 65,5% (881 decrease),
  • Robbery at residential premises decreased from 1437 to 664, showing a 53,8% decrease (773 decrease).

According to police minister Cele, domestic violence cases have also reportedly dropped 69,4% from 9990 cases between March 29 and April 22 last year to 3061 since the lockdown until April 20, meaning a difference of 6929.

The police minister gives credit to the alcohol ban for the reductions in violence in the country.

My first prize would be that we shut down alcohol [for good],” said police minister Bheki Cele, as per The Irish Times.

Another major improvement is the ceasefire between gangs in Cape Town’s Cape Flats suburb, which have led to a stop in gang violence in the area. Gangs have called a ceasefire to allow for the safe delivery of food and sanitation supplies to households whose bread winners can no longer work because of the lockdown.

The reduced violence means reduced admissions to hospitals as result of injury from violence. The reduced burden on hospitals and emergency services gives the country a fighting chance against the pandemic.

Reduced alcohol consumption means reduced burden on healthcare

Prof Charles Parry, an alcohol and other drug abuse researcher at the South African Medical Research Council along with Prof Richard Matzopoulos, an injury surveillance epidemiologist at the SAMRC’s burden of disease research unit, and Prof Andrew Nicol, head of trauma services at the University of Cape Town, built a model to show how the reduced alcohol use has led to fewer trauma cases representations in hospitals. Their model shows, reduction in alcohol use had probably led to 9,000 fewer trauma cases being admitted to wards every week, against an average of 35,000 cases. In other words: a likely 25% reduction in cases.

Dr. Sae-ouk Oh working at a local hospital says the alcohol ban has reduced the burden on the already overburdened healthcare system.

The ban of alcohol sales these past few weeks has dramatically reduced the patient load in emergency units across the country,” said Dr. Sae-ouk Oh, as per Financial Mail.

Already before the COVID-19 public health crisis, Prof. Parry advocated for evidence-based and high-impact alcohol policy measures to tackle South Africa’s epidemic alcohol problems:

  • Zero blood alcohol content while driving;
  • Raised legal age for alcohol use; and
  • Ban on alcohol advertising, promotions and sports sponsorships – something former health minister Aaron Motsoaledi promised but did not translate to action.

Big Alcohol against public health (again) even during a pandemic

Since the government imposed the alcohol ban, Big Alcohol has been fighting it in different ways, such as  illegally transporting alcohol and also lobbying the government to lift the ban.

South Africa: The Struggle over COVID-19 Alcohol Sales Ban

Now, Big Alcohol front group the Gauteng Liquor Forum has threatened to take the government to the Constitutional Court over the alcohol ban during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group has filed a case against the ban and if the government does not lift it, they plan to put their deep pockets into use and take legal action.

The lobby group would argue that an alcohol ban is not necessary, saying strict alcohol sales off-site consumption rules and closed shebeens would still lead to fewer hospital cases. They could also argue that the empty beds in hospital aren’t yet needed for Covid-19 patients, as the virus has yet to hit the country hard. The group would frame the issue of lost revenue, the looting of alcohol shops and illicit alcohol as points for their argument.

Despite how Big Alcohol frames it, the truth is (and the data sjows), alcohol harms people, communities and society in South Africa at epidemic levels and the alcohol ban is saving lives, specially during this COVID-19 crisis. As Prof. Parry predicts, just under 5,000 alcohol-related admissions to trauma units will reappear in a week after the ban is lifted.

Doctors believe the ban should continue, for if the pandemic hits the country hard, the ban enables South Africa to overcome the crisis since resilience and human capital are strengthened.

When the surge in Covid-19 cases comes – and don’t kid yourself thinking that it won’t, because it most certainly will sooner or later – this will help better manage the outbreak. We’ll most likely still be overwhelmed, but we might have a better shot at making it through,” said Dr. Sae-ouk Oh, as per Financial Mail.

Sources:

IOL: “SA lockdown sees 72% drop in murder, 87% drop in reported rape cases

The Irish Times: “Drop in violent crime more about ban on alcohol than movement restrictions

Financial Mail: “Is SA’s booze ban actually working?