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SAB is taking South Africa’s latest alcohol ban to court

SA Breweries (SAB) is challenging the constitutionality of South Africa’s latest alcohol ban.

The ban on the sale of alcohol was reintroduced a part of the country’s move to an adjusted level 3 lockdown at the end of December.

“After much consideration, SAB has decided to approach the courts to challenge the constitutionality of the decision taken and process followed by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to re-ban the sale of alcohol.

“This legal action is the last resort available to SAB in order to protect our employees, suppliers, customers, consumers and all the livelihoods we support.”

SAB said that it shares government’s concerns regarding the second Covid-19 resurgence and that it supports all lawful measures that curb the spread of the pandemic, including:

  • An earlier curfew to limit movement, reduced indoor and outdoor capacity at gatherings;
  • Measured alcohol restrictions by channel;
  • Heightened law enforcement.

However, SAB said that it strongly disagrees with the introduction of yet another outright ban on the sale of alcohol.

“SAB believes that any ban, including the current one goes far beyond what is reasonable and necessary to contain the spread of the virus and unlawfully restricts various rights that are enshrined and protected by our constitution.

“These include the right to freedom of trade, the right to human dignity, privacy, and the right to bodily and psychological integrity.”

The group said that challenging the constitutionality of the ban, which removes the South African public’s right as adults to responsibly consume a beer safely in the privacy of their own homes, is an integral part of its court action.

“The damage to the South African economy and impact on the alcohol value chain arising from ban on the sale of alcohol is, in SAB’s view, disproportional and unlawful.”

Alternatives not taken into account

SAB said that the alcohol industry made representation to government on the 28 December 2020 to consider several alternatives rather than imposing an outright nationwide ban on all formal sales of alcohol.

These alternatives, which it said were not taken into account, included:

  • Restrictions on our trade channels, with taverns moving from on- to off-premise trading;
  • Trading days and hours to remaining restricted for off-premise outlets.

“SAB firmly believes that the above proposed limitations coupled with an earlier curfew, would have been reasonable and effective in supporting the healthcare system and would help to mitigate transmission of the virus while still preserving livelihoods and keeping the economy open.”

As seen with the last two bans, the unintended consequences of an outright ban on the sale of alcohol are dire, SAB said.

“Over 165,000 people have already lost their jobs with a further 100,000 people moving into poverty as a result of the alcohol bans.

“We have seen small and large businesses severely impacted, billions of rand lost in taxes, the entrenchment of illicit trading and the looting of alcohol stores.  Restricting the legal trade of alcohol fuels the growth of the illicit market, a fact that is widely acknowledged internationally.

“The illicit market is outside the regulatory reach of government, leading to devastating consequences from a health and economic perspective.”