Durban — The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in South Africa (SAAPA SA) said it was eagerly waiting for the government to reveal its action plan to reduce alcohol harm in South Africa in 2023.
On Sunday while delivering a statement in Bloemfontein, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that underage drinking was identified as a problem in the country.
Ramaphosa did not reveal how he and his Cabinet would address alcohol harm and its negative impact on communities, said spokesperson for SAAPA Terri-Liza Fortein.
“While it is an improvement on last year when alcohol harm was not even mentioned at all in the statement, merely acknowledging that there is a problem will not save lives or reduce alcohol harm,” said Fortein.
She said swift action to change the situation in communities was urgently needed.
In June 2022, the Enyobeni tragedy resulted in the deaths of 21 children under the age of 18 in a tavern. Following this incident SAAPA SA implored the president to act urgently to avoid a repeat of such a tragedy. On Christmas Day, two children died in a tavern in Hofmeyr.
Fortein said the clauses in the Basic Education Legislation Amendment Bill proposing that alcohol can be sold at school functions should be scrapped and that enforcement of existing laws must be bolstered if alcohol harm and its impact were to be reduced.
“The Liquor Amendment Bill of 2017 must be passed urgently. We must take measures to reduce the abuse of alcohol through a combination of legislative and other measures, including community mobilisation and support to reduce alcohol harm in communities.
“We also need to acknowledge the structural and institutional drivers of the harmful use of alcohol. The ANC-led government must also recognise and address the need to rein in the alcohol industry,” Fortein said.
She said the government messaging often focused on the behaviour of individuals by calling for “responsible drinking”, much like the liquor industry.
“From the World Health Organization (WHO) to leading public health researchers and practitioners across the globe, the message is clear: robust government intervention is needed to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and limit the negative social impact of alcohol on the lives of people and communities across the world,” Fortein said.
She said that from December 1 to January 3 the Road Traffic Management Corporation reported that 2 241 motorists were arrested for drunken-driving, high speed, driving without a licence and violation of permits.
An unfortunate consequence to these “festivities” was the number of children separated from their parents or guardians. Worryingly, this happens every year, Fortein said.
“Many have died and been negatively impacted. The country’s coffers have been affected as alcohol harm costs the fiscus. We cannot afford to wait any longer. The children left behind by caregivers who engage in harmful drinking at the beach are tired of waiting,” said Fortein.