Another liquor sales ban 'not inconceivable' - Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

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Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
  • Another blanket ban on alcohol sales is not "inconceivable", says Cogta Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. 
  • Dlamini-Zuma filed an affidavit in the Western Cape High Court following a legal challenge by SAB. 
  • The brewery views a blanket ban on liquor sales as unconstitutional, but Dlamini-Zuma says the suspension supports people's constitutional rights. 

The blanket ban on alcohol sales might be over, but the legal battle between South African Breweries (SAB) and Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is not.

And, according to an affidavit filed by the minister in the Western Cape High Court this week, another, similar suspension on liquor sales is "not inconceivable", depending on the circumstances in SA at the time.

Dlamini-Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa are both respondents in SAB's application.

Ramaphosa eased restrictions on the sale of alcohol in an address to the nation on Monday. However, in an affidavit filed in the Western Cape High Court this week, Dlamini-Zuma says while she doesn't believe SAB's legal challenge is relevant any longer, she is compelled to file a response because SAB is "persisting with the application in its current form".

However, she adds, "While it is not inconceivable that another suspension (of similar effect) may be imposed in the future, whether this does occur will be entirely fact dependent with reference to the prevailing circumstances at the time." That is why, she adds, any current response she files will not be relevant in the future. 

Blanket ban 'unconstitutional'

SAB, a division of Ab-InBev, produces well-known liquor brands including Castle Lager and Black Label. It views a blanket ban on liquor sales as unconstitutional.

In the affidavit, Dlamini-Zuma says the intention was never to cause undue harm but based on necessity. "[G]overnment has been fully alive to the fact that measures such as the temporary suspension have come at significant financial cost to those working and operating in the affected sectors," the affidavit says.

"Notwithstanding these adverse financial implications, measures such as the temporary suspension have been necessary because their effect was to ensure capacity of the health care system to deliver health care services to those in need thereof and to avoid an unnecessary loss of lives."

Suspension supports constitutional rights

Rather than being unconstitutional, the suspension supports people's constitutional rights to life, dignity, and access to healthcare, argues the minister.

She further states that it would have been more harmful to institute a hard lockdown to limit movement altogether – instead, a "hybrid of measures" was chosen to limit the worst risks.

It has consistently been made clear that restrictions will not remain in place "any longer than is necessary", she says, adding that under the circumstances, the restrictions were the lesser of two evils.

"When balancing the competing considerations at stake, we ultimately determined that the … regulations have a far more limited adverse impact," she says.

Dlamini-Zuma further slams SAB and the other applicants for "trivialising" the number of hospital beds saved due to the suspension in sales, citing a high rate of alcohol abuse and related trauma in South Africa.  

Government has faced two legal challenges to its ban on the sale of alcohol – the second being by wine sector body Vinpro.

Late in December, Ramaphosa announced the third ban on the sale, distribution and most transportation of alcohol, saying the move was necessitated by the steep second wave of Covid-19 infections hitting the country.  "According to the data we have, with every relaxation of the restrictions on the sale of alcohol, the number of trauma cases reporting at our hospitals has increased," said Ramaphosa. 

At the time, SAB said it supported all lawful measures that curbed the spread of the pandemic, including a curfew, reduced indoor and outdoor capacity at gatherings, measured alcohol restrictions and heightened law enforcement. However, it regarded an outright ban on the sale of alcohol as unconstitutional.

Earlier this week, wine producers' organisation Vinpro said it was determined to proceed with its court application seeking to give the Western Cape premier powers to depart from a countrywide ban on the sale of alcohol. Vinpro said it did not want the industry to be turned on and off "like a light switch". 

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