The prohibition of liquor sales will not reduce casualties, says lobby group

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A fully stocked bar.
A fully stocked bar.
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  • The Liquor Traders Association of South Africa is seeking a phased-in, gradual relaxation of alcohol restrictions.
  • SA saw a spike in trauma admissions to hospitals once the initial ban was relaxed in June. 
  • But the association says strict stay-at-home restrictions were the real cause of fewer liquor-related casualties.

The ban on the sale of alcohol does not and will not significantly reduce hospital admissions, an association of private retail and wholesale liquor traders have said in an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

"What it is doing and will do, is destroy the livelihoods of many small businesses, their employees and families, and push many people closer to extreme poverty.”

The Liquor Traders Association of South Africa has requested a meeting with the president to discuss the lifting of the total prohibition on the sale of alcohol. 

The sale of alcohol was banned at the start of the lockdown in late March. It was unbanned at the start of June and again banned in mid-July to reduce admissions to South Africa's hospitals after the country experienced a spike in trauma cases

The association, however, argues that it is the stay-at-home restrictions under the initial lockdown that were the real cause of fewer liquor-related casualties. This, they said, was due to there being vastly fewer vehicles on the roads, particularly at night, as liquor was still available in peoples’ homes during the lockdown. 

The letter comes after a joint statement was issued a week ago by the National Liquor Traders Council, South African Liquor Brandowners Association, the Beer Association of South Africa, Vinpro and LTASA saying they were blindsided by the fresh ban.

The traders are not calling for an immediate return to pre-lockdown sales of liquor trading days and hours, but rather a phased-in and planned relaxation of the restrictions.

This association said that, during the initial alcohol ban between March 27 until May 31, its members had to pay salaries, wages, rent, insurance, security, IT charges and finance costs with no income. 

“The subsequent sudden announcement of an additional suspension on the sale of liquor on July 12 has left our members in shock and dismay. This is another period of zero income, ongoing expenses and stock that is expiring will result in crippling damage to cash flow, and many stores are on the brink of closure."

"A blanket liquor ban benefits the illegal traders of liquor, is massively detrimental to the legal traders of liquor, impacts small to medium size business the most and will not remove all liquor from the market. It simply creates an illicit market and illegal trade. Furthermore, it does nothing to address the underlying problem of the abuse of liquor by a small portion of liquor consumers. 

“A blanket ban destroys government revenue, legitimate Small to Medium Size businesses and does nothing to address the underlying problem (the abuse of alcohol) in the long term. Added to that it creates a massive public outcry, by many responsible consumers of liquor, who are effectively punished due to the irresponsible few,” the group concluded.

Some of the proposals to the government are:

  • The off-consumption sale of liquor by distributors and retailers be permitted under Alert Levels 3, 2 and 1.
  • The trading days and hours for retailers be Mondays to Thursdays (excluding public holidays) from 9am to 5pm, under alert level 3, with the days and hours being gradually extended. 
  • The trading days and hours for distributors [who sell to retailers] at any licensed premises, or through delivery, or by call-and–collect, be Mondays to Fridays (excluding public holidays) from 9am to 5pm, under Alert Level 3. Friday sales are necessary to enable the retailers to restock their inventories in preparation for retail sales on the following Mondays.

The group urged the president to engage with the industry and economists to consider the impact on livelihoods and to clearly understand the impact this ban has on the economy, jobs, government finances and our fight to keep independent businesses in South Africa alive.

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