President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lawyers has rejected calls for the lifting of the alcohol ban.
The Presidency responded to a stern letter sent to him by the Gauteng Liquor Forum (GLF) lawyers, threatening to approach the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, (April 14) if he does not lift the ban on alcohol, arguing that it is “unreasonable and unconstitutional”.
The Presidency rejected its request to lift the ban on alcohol sales, noting that the decision to impose a lockdown on South Africans was not taken “lightly” and was taken after full consideration of all relevant factors and expert advice.
“The overreaching concern in our decision making is the safety and interests of all South Africans,” the Presidency wrote.
It says during the discussion held this week with the National Command Council, Cabinet and the President, relevant sectors and experts in fields including financial, social, economic, scientific and medical it found that it would not be in the best interest of South Africans to lift the already existing ban.
“Having done so, the decision was taken not to ease the restrictions on the sale of alcohol during the lockdown,” says the Presidency.
It says the decision was taken after due consideration of the issues raised by the GLF and other bodies in the liquor industry.
Make use of relief programmes provided
The GLF had raised economic concerns of its clients in the first letter which it wrote to the Presidency and it has instead been directed to seek economic relief through programs offered by Government, such as the Tourism Relief Fund, the Department of Small Business Development, the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).
Tourism Relief Fund provides once-off capped grant assistance to Small Micro and Medium- Sized Enterprises (SMMEs) in the tourism value chain to ensure their sustainability during and post the implementation of government measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 in South Africa.
The grant is capped at R50 000 per entity, and it can be utilised to subsidise expenses towards fixed costs, operational costs, supplies and other pressure cost items.
While the Department of Small Business Development has the Debt Relief Fund which to assist businesses which are negatively affected, directly or indirectly, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UIF is to pay for employees, which its employers will struggle to pay as a result of the lockdown.
“We therefore, invite you to provide us with the registration details of all your clients’ businesses so that we may attempt to assist them with determining what assistance they qualify for, and assisting them where possible with applying for the appropriate funding,” the Presidency says.
Far from being happy
The GLF expressed its discontent this week with the available debt relief measures offered by the government.
“The fact that initiatives such as the Tourism Relief Fund are capped at R200 million in respect of the entire nationwide tourism industry means that the likelihood of receiving such assistance is even much more remote for those of our clients who are, for example, not registered taxpayers. However, they remain citizens, human beings and bearers of the constitutional rights referred to above,” the GLF says.
It says government initiatives provide no bar to seeking the relief contemplated by its clients.
“Which is not merely centred on financial loss but on the vindication of the constitutional rights at issue and curbing executive excesses of power and related unlawful and unconstitutional conduct,” the GLF says.
It adds that some members of the Forum “are also living in fear of their lives and physical security due to threats of violence in the form of looting and forceable entry threatened by people who are in desperate need of the alcoholic beverages stored and stocked in their premises and homes”.
Relationship between alcohol intoxication and Covid-19
But the Presidency pointed out that there is “a causal relationship between alcohol intoxication and abuse, and risky behaviour”.
“There are proven links between the sale and consumption of alcohol and violent crime, motor vehicle accidents and other medical emergencies at a time when all private and public resources should be preparing to receive and treat vast number of Covid-19 patients,” says the Presidency.
Professor Charles Parry director of the alcohol, tobacco and other drug research unit of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), says he can attest the President’s notion and therefore supports the decision not to lift the already existing ban on liquor sales, amid the pandemic.
“The President’s decision is the correct one. It is in the interests of reducing community transmission of Covid-19 and helping to limit interpersonal violence. The lungs of heavy drinkers are already compromised and limiting the availability of alcohol to such persons will also ensure a better outcome should they become infected with the coronavirus,” Parry says.
He says that based on a recently developed model, continuing the ban on the sale of alcohol during the lockdown could prevent 5 000 admissions to hospital trauma units a week.
He adds that the decision prohibiting the sale of tobacco during this period can be defended.
“Given that, as many as one-third of the population could contract Covid-19 at some point in future, and with 22% of the adult population being smokers, then reducing the availability of cigarettes will decrease the likelihood of those infected having more serious health outcomes,” Parry says.