Pretoria – The past two weeks since the lifting of the ban on the sale of alcohol has seen a heated debate over the link to crime and violence.
Some blame the availability and consumption of alcohol for the increase in criminal activity, admissions to hospital trauma units and road accidents.
While the country is fighting to arrest the spread of the coronavirus, still expected to peak somewhere in the winter months ahead and, with the government lifting restrictions in level 3 of the risk-adjusted lockdown strategy, sectors have been discussing the possibility of alcohol contributing to an increased infection rate.
Minister of Police Bheki Cele, who was in favour of the ban, said the police had recorded a spike in murder cases since it was lifted and the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption was allowed from 9am to 5pm, Mondays to Thursdays.
Spokesperson for the Department of Health Popo Maja said lifting the ban was worrisome to the department because alcohol was “the devil in the health sector”, and law enforcement needed to be harsher on culprits.
“Many casualties, particularly over the weekends, long weekends and the festive period, are as a result of the abuse of alcohol and drugs.
“Alcohol is a common denominator in car crashes, interpersonal, domestic and gender based violence,” he said.
Ayanda Allie Paine, who speaks for the Department of Transport, confirmed to the Pretoria News that there had been an increase in the number of car accidents in level 3 of lockdown, compared to levels 5 and 4.
“The Road Transport Management Corporation is still analysing if the increased number of accidents can directly be attributed to the lifted ban... or it’s simply because there are now more people on the roads.
Saying there were already over 34 000 hospital beds that have been occupied because of alcohol-related cases, Cele said although the sale of alcohol could not be banned forever, it would impact treating Covid-19 patients.
He said alcohol had a link to a lot of crimes in South Africa, including accidents and crimes against women.
Cele argued that while alcohol sales generated R1.6bn in revenue, it indirectly cost the government R38bn in medical expenses.
Presidents of the Concerned Tshwane Liquor Traders Association Oupa Mthombeni said the government should not blame alcohol for all incidents, but rather focus on strengthening education and awareness.
He said they needed to be taught about the dangers of abusing alcohol, and also be conscientised about how the abuse of alcohol can lead people to the abuse of women and children and engagement in other illegal activities.
Mthombeni and a group of tavern and shebeen owners travelled to several alcohol wholesalers, including Ultra Liquor in Meyerspark, to urge dealers not to sell bulk stock to people who did not have liquor licences, as was seen when the ban was lifted.
As part of their #CareAboutLife campaign, they encouraged tavern owners to refrain from selling to community members who are known to abuse women and children when under the influence of alcohol.
David Lekwadu and Tebatso Nkosi admitted to enjoying alcohol, but said it did not lead them astray so they wouldn’t want it to be banned.
They acknowledged that some people misbehaved because of alcohol, but those people needed to be sat down and be taught about the errors of their way and how they negatively affected society.
Fannie Mulaudzi said he did not care what people said, he remained adamant that alcohol was more dangerous than cigarettes, and especially at a time like this.
He said cigarettes did not make people do wild things, but alcohol could.
During a visit to a murder scene in Johannesburg this week, Celesaid until the Monday of the lifting of the lockdown, the country had not been going through “an entirely dangerous day”.
He said for the first time since the lockdown the police received reports of 40 people killed and the following day there were 51 murders and then there were 69 by the weekend.
“That has now just gone up, including attempting murder, including the abuse of women and violence against women,” he said, adding that it contributed to violence and lawlessness.