Alcohol ban has been lifted but quest for 'legal certainty' continues

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South African Breweries (SAB) is pressing ahead with its court challenge to government’s alcohol ban, even though it has been lifted. This, its lawyers say, is ‘in the interests of legal certainty and … to ensure that its continued business operations are not interrupted unnecessarily by further unlawful and unconstitutional prohibitions’, reports Sunday Times Daily.

In answer, government has filed more than 1,000 pages of papers in the Western Cape High Court, including detailed research about the “clear and obvious correlation” between alcohol sales and the demand on trauma and emergency units. The government argues that the recent ban, which President Cyril Ramaphosa lifted this week, did not breach any rights in the Bill of Rights.

Even if a right had been limited, this was justifiable under the Constitution, said Co-operative Governance & Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in a 255-page affidavit. She said the motivation for the December-January ban was to ensure the health system did not become overwhelmed in the face of the exponential rise in COVID-19 infections that South Africa saw in December and that it was only meant to last for as long as was necessary.

She said while government was “acutely aware” of the economic impact of the restrictions on SAB’s business and on the restaurant industry, there was a “fundamental point” to emphasise: “South Africa (and any industry operating in South Africa) cannot recover economically in the midst of a raging pandemic. Low transmission and, at some point, no transmission, is indispensable to economic recovery.”

Her affidavit includes data from hospitals across the country that show a marked drop in trauma cases after the most recent December ban.

And she warned, another, similar suspension on liquor sales is “not inconceivable”, depending on the circumstances at the time.

 

Hard choices must be made, and it's impossible to please everyone, Ramaphosa said in an affidavit filed in response to the SAB action. In his affidavit, the President backed Cabinet's decisions as well as the contents of Dlamini-Zuma’s affidavit.

According to Fin24, Ramaphosa said the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) is not a decision-making body – rather, it co-ordinates the government's response, which is based on in-depth discussions from many perspectives.

“I cannot do justice to the debates and discussions that occur in the NCCC and Cabinet, which have markedly improved our collective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Different Ministers would argue for the perspective of their departments, only to have other Ministers identify unexpected consequences… Hard choices must be made, and it is impossible to please everyone.”

Supporting documents included affidavits by Professor Charles Parry, director of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and Professor Bronwyn Myers, chief specialist scientist and deputy director at the same SAMRC unit.

 

Full Sunday Times Daily report (Restricted access)

 

Full Fin24 report (Open access)

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