Ramaphosa on liquor sales ban: 'It's impossible to please everyone'

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Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa
Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa
  • Experts have hit back in a court battle between SAB and government. 
  • Using alcohol to cope is "maladaptive", said one expert. 
  • It's impossible to please everyone when trying to contain a pandemic, added President Cyril Ramaphosa. 

Hard choices must be made, and it's impossible to please everyone, President Cyril Ramaphosa has said in an affidavit filed in the Western Cape High Court this week.

Ramaphosa was responding to a legal challenge by South African Breweries (SAB) and others to a recent ban on the sale of alcohol.

In his affidavit, the president backed Cabinet's decisions as well as the contents of an earlier affidavit filed by Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Hard debates

Ramaphosa said the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) is not a decision-making body – rather, it coordinates the government's response, which is based on in-depth discussions from many perspectives.

"I cannot do justice to the debates and discussions that occur in the NCCC and Cabinet, which have markedly improved our collective response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Different ministers would argue for the perspective of their departments, only to have other ministers identify unexpected consequences… Hard choices must be made, and it is impossible to please everyone."

In anticipation of the second wave of the pandemic, measures were adopted by government aimed at "achieving the intricate balance between the preservation of life on the one hand, and the preservation of livelihood on the other", Ramaphosa said. 

It was also important to remember that it was December, and the people of the country had had an exceptionally hard year, he added.

Drinking not a coping measure

Supporting documents included affidavits by Prof Charles Parry, director of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and Professor Bronwyn Myers, chief specialist scientist and deputy director at the same SAMRC unit.

Among other things, the medical experts took issue with a claim in the court application that alcohol could help consumers cope with stress. Rather, they said, heavy drinking has biological effects that increase the risk for depression and other mood disorders. It was concerning and "maladaptive" to use alcohol as a coping strategy, said Myers.

They also took issue with a claim that the majority of SA drinkers did so in moderation, citing instead a pattern of heavy drinking episodes associated with a higher risk of injury and death.

They further said the evidence in support of the impact of alcohol on SA emergency services and health system was "overwhelming".

Alcohol abuse also had a negative effect on respiratory health – a particular risk during Covid-19, they argued. 

Government has faced challenges to its ban on the sale of liquor by both winemakers body Vinpro and SAB (alongside other applicants). In both cases, despite the easing of restrictions, the challenges appear to be going ahead. 

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