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Op-Ed: Wine industry’s chance to act on cheap wine in plastic containers

Government and the South African wine industry should have tackled one evil feature of local wine consumption years ago. If it had, the current hard-handed approach to liquor might have been less destructive and invasive.

OK, we’ve got it. Or should have. The South African wine industry will never be the same again. Well, whatever is left of it after President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Covid Command Council have finished with us.

The authorities will, possibly together with the local liquor bodies, thrash out new regulations. Trading hours, advertising, blood-alcohol levels for drivers and drinking age-restrictions will be revisited, and revamped. Whether the new regulations are implemented, however, remains a different kettle of moonshine all together.

But why was this issue never tackled in the past, namely the continued selling of cheap rubbish called wine at criminally low prices to South Africa’s poorest-of-the-poor, questions wine blog,

This stuff comes in plastic or plastic/board containers with a garish cheap label. Names like “Cape’s Best” and “Lekker Ou Jan” and “Namaqua Daisy”.

It sells for between R10 and R22 a litre and is aimed at township dwellers, rural farmworkers and those living off social grants. When the AllPay social grants roll into a rural town in the Western, Northern or Eastern Cape, you can be sure that a substantial of that meagre hand-out will be spent on the cheapest alcohol drink around.

Here the bottle-store owners ensure they are well stocked with plastic wine jugs on the days the social grants get handed out.

How much of this cheap rotgut is sold?

According to SAWIS, from the year to March 2020, 40.3m litres in plastic. Another 12m litres in cartons, most of which also falls into this trashy category.

The presence of this stuff in the category of South African wine is an embarrassment. It is one of the primary reasons why the country has the highest incidence of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world.

Other effects of this evil include physical and psychological trauma in impoverished communities, which ensures the continuing of the despair and poverty.

Government and the wine industry realise this. In 2007 they joined forces in amending the Liquor Products Act 60 of 1989 to prevent the sale of (cheap) alcohol in bags that are not self-supporting and could not be resealed. For the reasons stated above.

But purveyors of this wine-filled plastic bag (papsak) simply changed to a sturdier plastic container for holding this cheap drink. Alcohol abuse in the poor communities continues, as does the harm this stuff causes.

It is time to once-and-for stop making it so easy for people to access this plastic-container evil that leads to them wrecking their own lives, that of their families and communities.

But the damage goes beyond the poor abusers of plastic-packed cheap wine. The mere presence of the stuff is harming the image of South African wine and the local wine industry.

Not one wine producer I know of wishes to be associated with Lekker Ou Jan Semi-Sweet at R15 a litre. But until this evil is banished, every producer will suffer from the harm it is doing to the perception of South African wine, as well as the social destruction it causes.

The government has raised concern at this cheap plastic wine. It is now in the industry’s court to do something about it. And not for the first time.