Growing support for government to increase the legal drinking age to 21 in South Africa

South Africa

South African policymakers are strongly considering new – and possibly permanent – restrictions on the alcohol industry, motivated by recommendations and data recieved from the country’s multiple alcohol bans.

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa) said this week that the introduction of stronger alcohol laws in South Africa will help reduce crime in South Africa as well as the maltreatment of children.

SAAPA is lobbying for the government to pass the Liquor Amendment Bill, which it says will help change the country’s drinking culture, “We should acknowledge the link between the harmful use of alcohol by adults in the home and in the community and the physical and psychological abuse of children in our society and take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening,” said Maurice Smithers, director at SAAPA.

Speaking of changing the legal drinking age, Smithers said it is not enough to teach the youth not to drink, “there also needs to be a change in South Africa’s drinking culture and how we normalise alcohol as something that is fun and aspirational, encouraging young people to assume that alcohol is a natural and necessary part of life.”

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Some of the most noteworthy proposed changes to the law include:

  • Increasing the drinking age to 21 years
  • The introduction of a 100-metre radius limitation of trade around educational and religious institutions
  • Banning of any alcohol sales and advertising on social and small media
  • The introduction of a new liability clause for alcohol-sellers

According to a report by TimesLive earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed he was reconsidering the Draft Liquor Amendment Bill (which was first made public in 2016). He said extending the drinking age was being considered by the government in an effort to reduce alcohol-related trauma hospital admissions and curb the “ugly” alcohol abuse amongst the youth.

Cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has also voiced her support and indicated in court documents submitted this year, that she is in favour of some of the proposals.

“All of these I consider to be a useful medium to long term tools to reduce South Africa’s high rate of alcohol consumption to be considered by the legislature in due course,” said Dlamini Zuma in an affidavit.

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Furthermore, labour and civil society groups also putting pressure on the government to introduce the Draft Liquor Amendment Bill, while medical professionals say that the strict lockdown regulations and alcohol bans drastically improved hospital bed availability.

The Democratic Alliance is also backing the bill and says that the government already has ready-made legislation waiting to be implemented. It says it supports the changes prescribed in the 2016 Draft Liquor Amendment Bill and that if the president is serious about fast-tracking this bill, the DA is ready to do the work and come up with solutions that will balance both lives and livelihoods.

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