Accidents, arrests and deaths: South Africans booze it up under Level 2

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Hundreds of people were arrested in Gauteng over the weekend.
Hundreds of people were arrested in Gauteng over the weekend.
Roger Sedres, Gallo Images
  • Alcohol-related incidents such as drunk driving and reckless behaviour have increased. 
  • This just days after the ban on the sale of alcohol was lifted under Level 2 of lockdown regulations.
  • South Africans have been warned to stick to the rules or face the consequences. 

It's been one week since the ban on the sale of alcohol was lifted as part of South Africa's implementation of Level 2 lockdown regulations. 

The move has seen several restrictions lifted, bringing with it certain freedoms denied to South Africans as government attempted to curb the spread of Covid-19. 

But by far the biggest cause of celebration was the lifting of the ban on the sale of tobacco products and alcohol, under certain conditions. 

While the ban on alcohol sales was initially lifted, President Cyril Ramaphosa reinstated it on 12 July.

Five months after the national state of disaster was declared, South Africans can once again travel between provinces for leisure, visit restaurants, bars and taverns, go to gym, and visit friends and family. 

In a national address announcing the second ban, Ramaphosa said: "As we head toward the peak of infections, it is vital that we do not burden our clinics and hospitals with alcohol-related injuries that could have been avoided.

"This is a fight to save every life, and we need to save every bed.

"We have therefore decided that in order to conserve hospital capacity, the sale, dispensing, and distribution of alcohol will be suspended with immediate effect."

At the time he said there was clear evidence that the resumption of alcohol sales had resulted in substantial pressure on hospitals, including trauma and ICU units, due to motor vehicle accidents, violence, and related trauma. 

Since the ban on alcohol sales was again lifted on 18 August, a number of alcohol-related incidents have again plagued the country leading to a number of arrests and, in some cases, deaths. 

One of the incidents this weekend was the death of three Tshwane police officers, who were chasing an alleged drunk driver in Pretoria West. They were involved in a head-on collision with the suspect, who was also killed in the crash. Empty and open bottles of alcohol were found in the car. 

'Reckless behaviour'

Police Minister Bheki Cele denounced the "reckless behaviour" that "led to the senseless loss of life".

"The lives of these young officers were cut short by a man who chose to drink and act irresponsibly. While the alcohol ban has been lifted under lockdown Level 2, it still remains the responsibility of those who consume alcohol to do so without putting themselves and those around them in danger. If alcohol was consumed at home as per government's directive, the loss of lives could have been avoided," Cele said. 

In Gauteng, many drunk drivers were among 841 people arrested over the weekend. 

According to police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters, SAPS, together with other law enforcement agencies in Gauteng, had carried out operations aimed at ensuring adherence to the Covid-19 regulations across all districts in the province during the first weekend of Level 2.

READ | Many 'drunk' drivers, including cops, among 840 arrested in Gauteng over weekend

"These operations resulted in the arrest of more than [840] suspects, including two police officers arrested for drinking and driving," Peters said.

"A 27-year-old constable was arrested in Sedibeng on Saturday night after driving into an accident scene, injuring a bystander. He was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as reckless and negligent driving.

"A sergeant was arrested in Norwood, Johannesburg, on Thursday night after his car collided with a [Johannesburg] Metro Police vehicle. The 37-year-old was arrested on the spot and charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol."

Peters said the other suspects were arrested for contravening the Disaster Management Act and other crimes

In Johannesburg, several people were also arrested at the weekend for flouting lockdown regulations. 

Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) spokesperson Senior Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said: "A joint operation was conducted in Hillbrow by the SAPS, JMPD, and Gauteng traffic police. Seven suspects were arrested for public drinking and 42 liquor outlets were closed."

In Klerksdorp, a tavern owner was served with a notice to appear in court after a video taken at his establishment was distributed on social media, depicting patrons showing disregard for lockdown regulations such as wearing face masks and physical distancing.  

North West police spokesperson Brigadier Sabata Mokgwabone said, in the video, more than 50 patrons can be seen breaking lockdown regulations at the tavern in Jouberto. The incident happened on Wednesday. 

"Subsequently, a 54-year-old owner of the place was issued with a notice to appear before the Klerksdorp Magistrate's Court on Monday, 28 September," Mokgwabone said. 

'Clamp down hard'

In another alcohol-related incident, the mother of two children killed in a shack fire at the Ramaphosa informal settlement in Ekurhuleni - while she was allegedly drinking at a shebeen - seemingly took her own life after hearing about the death of her daughters.

The two children - aged 2 and 4 - died on Saturday at the informal settlement, while their 8-year-old brother managed to escape the inferno, sustaining severe burn wounds.

Asked about the impact the implementation of Level 2 has had in general, Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs spokesperson Lungi Mtshali said a comprehensive report was being prepared and will first be submitted to Parliament before being made public. 

Meanwhile, Cele has vowed that the police will continue to prosecute those who disregard the regulations, particularly when it comes to alcohol. 

"Police officers will continue in their numbers, to enforce the law and clamp down hard, especially on reckless behaviour brought on by alcohol abuse," Cele said.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Sunday said South Africa was "over the surge" of Covid-19 infections, but warned that a resurgence might be on the cards if people neglect precautionary measures.

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