Crime rates in South Africa have increased in this quarter compared to the previous quarter. The chairperson of the portfolio committee on police says that the crime stats indicate the link between alcohol and violence.

It is very clear liquor is having a direct and large impact on rape and grievous bodily harm (GBH), the escalation of an altercation from common assault to serious assault,” said Tina Joemat-Pettersson, chairperson, the portfolio committee on police, as per The Citizen.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson, chairperson, portfolio committee on police

Ms. Joemat-Pettersson made this comment after seeing the hike in crime figures in the report presented to the portfolio committee by the Police.

According to the report, compared to the previous quarter, in this quarter, there were:

  • 7004 murders, which is an increase of 841 (13.6%).
    • The leading causes of murder were arguments, misunderstanding, road rage, and provocation (956),
      • followed by vigilantism and mob justice (528),
      • then robbery (362), and
      • finally retaliation (348).

Police Minister Bheki Cele said that the crime stats show that aggression and violence were at worrying levels in South Africa.

The country already regulates tobacco through the “Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill”. However, despite the similar (or higher) levels of harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry, South Africa still does not have a similarly comprehensive response to alcohol harm.

Professor Charles Parry, director of the alcohol, tobacco, and other drug research unit at the South African Medical Research Council, gives two reasons why South Africa is lagging behind in alcohol policy development:

  1. The pressure from the alcohol industry, and
  2. Lack of consensus (compared to tobacco) about how harmful alcohol is to the health, social and economic well-being of people and communities.

None of the politicians at the moment – none of the ministers really – are committed to addressing alcohol in the same way,” said Professor Charles Parry, director of the alcohol, tobacco, and other drug research unit at the South African Medical Research Council, as per The Citizen.

Professor Charles Parry, director, alcohol, tobacco, and other drug research unit, South African Medical Research Council

There is vast, untapped potential for the government to better protect people and communities from harm due to the products and practices of Big Alcohol.

Alcohol-related violence reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic

Multiple short-term, temporary alcohol sales bans were implemented in South Africa between 2020 and 2021. The government aimed to reduce alcohol-related trauma cases (including those that occur due to violence, road traffic injury, etc.) to reduce the burden in hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic.

Subsequent studies found that these temporary alcohol sales bans were successful. Research published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Review in May 2021 found the following:

  1. There was a 59% to 69% decrease in trauma volume between the no ban and the temporary alcohol sales ban 1 periods;
  2. Trauma volume dropped again by 39% to 46% with the temporary alcohol sales ban 2; and
  3. Partial bans of alcohol sales were not effective in reducing trauma volumes.

Meanwhile, the South African police reported a reduction in violence, crime and violent deaths when the temporary alcohol sales bans were in effect.

The success of these alcohol availability measures in South Africa sparked interest among policymakers to improve alcohol policies in the country.

The liquor Amendment Bill

This is where South Africa’s Liquor Amendment Bill comes into the picture.

The Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016 sought to amend the National Liquor Act of 2003. It was proposed after the Act was reviewed in 2015. Some of the measures included in the amendment are: 

  • Restricting advertising of alcohol on public platforms;
  • Alcohol advertising ban on radio and television at certain times and on billboards less than 100 meters away from junctions, street corners, and traffic circles.
  • Increasing the legal age for alcohol use from 18 to 21 years;
  • Regulating specific trading days and hours for alcohol to be distributed and manufactured; and
  • Placing liability on alcohol retailers and manufacturers for harm related to the contravention of regulations.

However, this Bill never progressed beyond being approved for public comment. It has been on hold since 2018.

In recent developments, the Department of Trade, Industry, and Competition announced earlier in November 2022 to “reintroduce” the bill after “improvements”. However, it is unclear what these improvements would be.

Big Alcohol policy interference in South Africa

Big Alcohol interference in alcohol policy-making is one of the main reasons behind the delay in adopting the liquor amendment bill and protecting more people from the alcohol industry in South Africa.

Alcohol companies and their front groups have been found to use the following strategies to interfere in alcohol policy-making in South Africa. These strategies were clearly visible during the temporary alcohol sales bans.

Source Website: Citizen