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Durban - Despite the liquor industry’s huge contribution to the country’s GDP, the government was spending more than R45 billion annually to deal with the social ills caused by the abuse of alcohol – such as the cost of fatal road accidents and the breakdown of families.
These were some of the statistics presented on Monday at the launch of KwaZulu-Natal Sobriety Week by the MEC for Economic Development and Tourism, Mike Mabuyakhulu, who is responsible for regulating the industry in the province.
He said the week-long campaign, included efforts to deal with illegal liquor traders who ignored regulations and contributed hugely to the abuse of liquor.
Sobriety Week aimed to reduce alcohol abuse by encouraging abstinence or responsible consumption of alcohol in a nation ranked as the 10th-largest consumer of alcohol in the world.
Mabuyakhulu did not specify whether this ranking was based on liquor volume sales or per capita consumption.
However, he said new legislation would take effect soon targeting those who violated laws governing the sale of liquor, especially to young and pregnant people.
“Those operating illegally and those legal operators who fail to comply with the law will face the full might of the law,” warned Mabuyakhulu.
Addressing the same event, trade and industry deputy director-general Zodwa Ntuli said while the liquor industry contributed well more than R90 billion to the country’s GDP, the government spent almost R45bn annually to deal with ills associated with the abuse of liquor.
“While alcohol contributes to the economy of our country, the reality is that its abuse ravages our families, our communities and the nation.
“We have heard of many accounts where young children and youth are increasingly falling prey to alcohol and substance abuse.
“It is a contributory factor to poverty, crime, reduced productivity, dysfunctional family life, escalation of chronic diseases and, therefore, it needs to be dealt with holistically,” said Mabuyakhulu.
He said the recently created KwaZulu-Natal Liqour Authority would take the lead in ensuring that all stakeholders played a critical role in the control and regulation of alcohol.
Because the industry had a huge impact on the economy of the country and on society, it became critical that the government put in place laws and policies to ensure responsible trade and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
“Many pregnant women ignore health warnings that alcohol consumption could harm their babies through the development of foetal alcohol syndrome.”
The mushrooming of illegal outlets selling liquor next to businesses, schools and places of worship was another worrying factor which made it difficult to protect vulnerable sections of the community.
To deal with these problems, said Mabuyakhulu, the government was expected to create a culture of activism around this sector where members of the public were aware of their rights and the laws on the sale and consumption of alcohol.
In her address, Ntuli said there were 56 000 registered liquor traders in the country.
“This means we have more or less 1 000 outlets for 1 million people, which does not look bad at all. But there are more illegal outlets that are not regulated,” said Ntuli.
Sipho Nembula, chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Liquor Forum, pledged the support of traders to responsible drinking. - The Mercury