AB InBev has entangled the South African government in a legal battle over temporary alcohol sales ban as COVID-19 counter measure. The protracted legal battle burdened the country’s justice system and wasted precious government resources.
The temporary alcohol sales bans were implemented as measures to reduce alcohol-related trauma cases and in doing so free up hospital beds to manage the influx of COVID-19 patients during the height of the pandemic.
These temporary alcohol sales bans were widely successful. A study analyzing the trauma case volume from Worcester Regional Hospital in South Africa found that:
- There was a 59 to 69% decrease in trauma volume between the no-ban and alcohol sales ban 1 period.
- Trauma volume dropped again by 39 to 46% with the temporary alcohol sales ban 2.
- Partial bans on alcohol sales were not effective in reducing trauma volumes.
Big Alcohol’s legal battle
Despite the lives saving success of the alcohol availability measures, Big Alcohol giant AB InBev subsidiary SABMiller has been using its deep pockets to go after the South African government in a legal battle over the measures.
As Movendi International reported, first SABMiller challenged (via an urgent application) the temporary alcohol sales ban implemented in June 2021 with the Western Cape High Court. When the Western Cape Court dismissed the challenge in July 2021, SABMiller made a second move and turned to the Supreme Court to appeal the challenge. But the Supreme Court denied SAB leave of appeal.
However, SAB Miller did not stop there and lodged an application at the Western Cape High Court against the temporary alcohol sales ban declaring that regulations 44 and 86 promulgated by the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on December 29, 2020, were unlawful and had no force and effect. SAB Miller went so far as to call the decision “unconstitutional”.
The Big Alcohol giant did not withdraw the case even when temporary alcohol sales bans were lifted for good in February 2021.
However, in a majority rule, the Western Cape High Court held that these regulations, which prohibited the sale, dispensing, and distribution of liquor during periods of 2020, were necessary for assisting and protecting the public and addressing other destructive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, notably the collapse of the health system.
Then the case appeared in front of the Supreme Court of Appeal but was again denied leave to appeal.
Unrelenting in their attack, SAB Miller then turned to the Constitutional Court. But eventually the alcohol giant came to the insight in late July 2022 to withdraw its application for leave to appeal from the Constitutional court.
Civil society network Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance South Africa (SAAPA SA) launched a petition to push SAB Miller to withdraw the court challenge. SAAPA SA pointed out that the legal battle was a distraction and was diverting precious government resources away from addressing the pandemic and its consequences.
SAB Miller in its withdrawal notice has said it would pay the state’s “wasted costs” related to the case.