Constitutionality of alcohol ban challenged after government ‘fails to consider alternatives’

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SA Breweries (SAB) will challenge the constitutionality of the blanket ban on alcohol sales, which was re-introduced late in December and was this week renewed by President Cyril Ramaphosa, writes MedicalBrief. The ban – in place for four months during the first wave of the pandemic – was reintroduced in a bid to alleviate pressure on hospitals.

According to Business Day, SAB said the legal action was the last resort available to it to protect its employees, suppliers, customers, consumers and all the livelihoods the brewery supports.

According to SAB, it had made representations to the government on 28 December to consider several alternatives rather than imposing an outright nationwide ban on all formal sales 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,” it said.

The company said the previous two bans on alcohol sales resulted in many unintended consequences, including the loss of more than 165,000 jobs.

 

Alternatives to an outright ban were not taken into account, in the view of SAB, notes a Fin24 report. SAB would have preferred if taverns had been allowed to move from on-premise trading to off-premise trading. The beer producer would also have accepted if trading days and trading hours remained restricted for off-premise outlets.

SAB said it firmly believes that these proposed limitations, coupled with an earlier curfew, would have constituted a reasonable and effective strategy in supporting the healthcare system while mitigating transmission of the virus and keeping the economy open. “It is important for us to emphasise that we do support measured alcohol restrictions, but the process needs to undergo some scrutiny in courts in terms of the measures which have been applied,” SAB vice president of corporate affairs, Zoleka Lisa, said.

The urgent application will be brought in the Western Cape High Court and is expected to be heard by late January.

 

AB InBev-owned SAB appears to be on its own, with other liquor producers distancing themselves from the court action, reports Fin24. This may now change, with Ramaphosa’s reaffirmation of the ban in his address to the nation on Monday (11 January 2021).

The SA Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) issued a statement, saying: “While very much concerned about the current prohibition of all alcohol sales, Salba is not party to the litigation process.” The association added it was concerned about the country’s escalating COVID-19 cases and would like to work with the government to reduce the pandemic’s impact.

However, it said it would wait for the government to review its decision on the ban on 15 January, as promised by President Cyril Ramaphosa. “Government has not provided a reason for closing off-consumption and there is no justification for the ban to continue beyond the 15 January review of the current lockdown,” said Salba chair Sibani Mngadi.

Instead, Salba suggested the ban be lifted for the off-site consumption of alcohol. The association represents alcohol manufacturers and distributors such as Distell, Diageo and Pernod Ricard.

 

In the ANC’s annual 8 January statement to celebrate the party’s 109 birthday held virtually, President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for tougher legislation and community mobilisation against the abuse of alcohol. The President said temporary restrictions that were placed on the availability of alcohol under the State of Disaster regulations demonstrated the extent to which abuse of alcohol fuels violence, trauma and reckless behaviour and places a burden on the health system and emergency services.

“We must take measures to reduce the abuse of alcohol through a combination of legislative and other measures and community mobilisation,” he is quoted as saying in a News24 report. He added foremost on the government’s agenda for the year would be combating the spread of the coronavirus.

“To overcome COVID-19, we are preparing to implement a mass vaccination programme that reaches all South Africans as appropriate quantities of an effective and suitable vaccine are procured.”

Ramaphosa also cautioned against disinformation relating to COVID-19 and unfounded conspiracy theories, its treatment and the development of vaccines.

 

Full Business Day report (subscription needed)

 

Full Fin24 report

 

Full Fin24 report

 

Full News24 report

 

ANC annual 8 January statement

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