Key recommendations of the commission include:
- Minimum unit pricing – Introducing a floor price on the sale of alcohol to eliminate ultra-cheap alcohol and aggressive price promotions of the alcohol industry to convert people to alcohol users.
- Alcohol excise taxation – Increasing the excise tax on the price of alcohol; studies have indicated how a 10% increase in the price of alcohol could lead to a 4.4% fall in consumption and related harm.
- Additional tax – A similar meta-analysis of the impact of improving the alcohol tax showed that a doubling of tax led to a 35% reduction in alcohol-related mortality.
- Better law enforcement – The commission said that government in general and law enforcement agencies, in particular, should improve the stringency of law enforcement of current legislation dealing with alcohol, including the withdrawal of licenses from liquor traders that do not comply with regulations.
The commission also recommended conducting public awareness and educational campaigns on the real harm of alcohol, including fatalities resulting from gender-based violence, driving under the influence of alcohol, and other harms.
The Police Minister General Bheki Cele who is a strong supporter of improving alcohol prevention and control believes the country needs better laws to tackle the alcohol burden hampering South African society.
South African Police Service (SAPS) crime data show that between July 1 and September 31, 2020 over a thousand incidences of murder, attempted murder, rape and assault took place at, in, or outside alcohol outlets such as bars, taverns, shebeens and nightclubs. Alcohol was involved in 829 assault cases, 747 rape cases and 179 attempts of murder.
These figures make it impossible to deny the true effects of alcohol abuse,” said General Bheki Cele, Minister of the South African Police, as per Business Tech.General Bheki Cele, Minister of the South African Police
Local government action ahead of national action
The recommendations by the commission align closely with proposals made by the Western Cape government which is also considering further improvements to rules governing the sale of alcohol in the region.
The premier of Western Cape Alan Winde has directed to urgently address the “deadly relationship” the province has with alcohol. The premier pointed out how trauma cases in hospitals drastically reduced during the lockdown alcohol sales ban and increased rapidly when the sales ban was lifted.
Our department of health data showed that when alcohol was banned during the Hard Lockdown and subsequent restrictions, trauma cases in our hospitals came down notably,” said Alan Winde, premier of Western Cape, South Africa, as per Business Tech.
As soon as the sale of alcohol was allowed again, the number of trauma cases increased almost by the same percentage. The causality is as clear as day.”.Alan Winde, premier of Western Cape, South Africa
The Western Cape Government will propose major amendments to the Western Cape Liquor Act, with these changes to be ‘fast-tracked as an urgent priority’. If successful these amendments will be instrumental in preventing and reducing not only gender-based violence but overall alcohol harm in the region.
Western Cape’s minister of Community Safety, Albert Fritz confirms that his department was tasked with making improvements to the Western Cape Liquor Act. Following are some amendments the province is currently considering:
- Price: Implementing minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol;
- Availability: Limiting number of hours for alcohol sale;
- Monitoring system: Ensuring that a record of all liquor sales is kept by outlets and prescribe the measure of detail required.
- Availability and youth protection: Obliging alcohol license holders to take reasonable measures to determine that a client is of legal age to buy alcohol.
- Enforcement: Inserting an objective test within the Act to determine whether alcohol has been sold to an unlicensed outlet/individual.
- Aligning the Act with the Liquor Products Act to ensure a uniform definition of “Illicit liquor”.
- Providing for a public participation process to improve existing license.
These measures cover key elements of the WHO alcohol policy blueprint “SAFER”.
Alcohol harm in South Africa
According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, South Africa has a total per capita alcohol consumption of 9.3 liters which is above the average for the WHO African region. When it comes to alcohol users only, the per capita consumption rises to a staggering 37.5 liters for men and 13.7 liters for women.
69% of adults live alcohol-free in South Africa, a clear majority. Nevertheless, alcohol harm is pervasive in the country. Those who consume alcohol (15+ years of age) consume heavily and over half engage in binge alcohol use – a highly harmful pattern of consumption.
South Africa is placed on the highest end for years of life lost due to alcohol.
WHO data show that despite the alcohol burden, national alcohol policy action is lacking. The recommendations by the commission and the example of Western Cape will go a long way in preventing and reducing overall alcohol harm for all South Africans, as proposed solutions are in line with the WHO’s SAFER package.
Alcohol policy proven effective to reduce gender-based violence
As Movendi International has previously reported, gender-based violence is a serious problem in South Africa. According to ChildSafe South Africa, alcohol is closely related to violent crimes in the South African context. In their research, they found that about 70% of perpetrators assaulting intimate partners or spouses were alcohol intoxicated.
Scientific evidence shows that reducing the availability and affordability of alcohol is associated with lower levels of violence. According to data increasing the price of an ounce of alcohol by 1% would reduce the probability of intimate partner violence against women by 5.3%.
This evidence was proved during the alcohol sales ban in South Africa’s lockdown time. The sales ban first lasted from end of March to June 1, 2020. Then after lifting for a brief period the sales ban was implemented again from July 12 to September 21, 2020.
After the first alcohol sales ban implemented in the country violence levels including gender-based violence drastically dropped, proving that alcohol policy solutions are indeed effective tackling alcohol harm.
- Crime statistics revealed, between March 29 and April 22 last year compared with March 27 and April 20 this year, rape cases dropped from 2908 to 371, showing an 87,2% decrease (2537 decrease).
- While in most countries domestic violence increased during lockdown, in South Africa, domestic violence cases were reported to have decreased by 70%. The number of women seeking assistance at Thuthuzela Centres also decreased by 50%.
The success of the alcohol sales ban in South Africa as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 shows the potential of policy action in preventing and reducing alcohol harm including gender-based violence in the country.