Liquor sales on Sunday
It was odd that while KwaZulu-Natal was debating and moving towards allowing liquor outlets to trade on Sundays, Gauteng and the Western Cape were debating their closure.
Our provincial discordance on the sale of alcohol was not unique, though – the laws on liquor sales and consumption differ between states in the US, for instance. But even there, all bar one state now sell liquor on a Sunday, their experience being that people would go out of state, binge drink or stock up ahead of time.
The issue was dropped in the Western Cape, and in Gauteng, the planned reversal on the eight-year sale of liquor on Sundays was stopped. Last week, the passing of the Liquor Licensing Amendment Bill, which legalises Sunday alcohol sales, means KZN will finally fall into line.
The new law also forbids liquor outlets within 500m of religious institutions or schools – excluding those traders who were there before the law.
So officials will visit them, set their hours, and raise relocation plans.
Some objections have been puritanical, but most have been based on a fear that Sunday sales would increase alcohol abuse, and the ills that go with it.
It does not matter, though, on which day liquor is sold. It matters how it is consumed.
Alcohol abusers ensure they have stocks for dry days. For convenience purchasers, though, Sunday closure of bottle stores and supermarket wine sections has been plain irksome.
There are tens of thousands of outlets operating 24/7 in this country, with or without licences. They have been open for business all along, setting their own hours.
For them, this debate meant little, and probably went by unnoticed.
In South Africa the attempt to ban liquor sales in the past spawned a large shebeen industry, which operated outside of taxation and legal limits.
There is still a legacy of this, and opening up liquor sales on a Sunday will be a step towards more even control over liquor sales.