Pretoria - The government would be wasting time by trying to imitate countries such as the United States in raising the legal drinking age to 21, stakeholders and other concerned parties have said.
And one of the parties to react to the proposal is the Free Market Foundation (FMF), which claims its research suggested “raising the drinking age is condescending and tyrannical”.
The foundation said it would not work and South Africans should resist this and other programmes by the government to take freedom away from the people and vest itself with paternalistic powers.
The Department of Trade and Industry is spearheading the National Liquor Amendment Bill.
The bill proposes prohibiting the supply of liquor or methylated spirits to persons under the age of 21 - raising it from 18.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies said the brain did not fully develop until the mid-twenties, and as such the impact on the brain by alcohol abuse was much more severe than it is on the fully developed brain.
The government said alcohol abuse was increasing in South Africa, with 5 billion litres of alcohol consumed a year. On average, South Africans consumed between 10 and 12.4 litres of alcohol a person a year. The global average was 6.2 litres.
Legal Researcher at FMF Martin van Staden said people the government deemed mature enough to vote, marry freely, choose careers, drive cars, and enter into contracts would no longer be allowed to drink with friends or at a meal or even at their own weddings if this bill was adopted.
“Individuals currently between 18 and 21 who consume alcohol will be criminalised. But, as is the case almost universally, this new law will be ignored, becoming a needless leech on the taxpaying wallet of South Africa,” he said.
He said that under 18s were drinking illegally now, and widely so. The difference between them and those over 18 was that they drank in secret, where their parents and other responsible adults were not present.
By raising the drinking age even more, people under 21 would continue to drink, but in uncontrolled environments.
This, Van Staden said, would expose them to the same dangers underage drinkers were exposed to.
The popular feeling was that prohibitionists enjoyed linking crime rates with heavy drinking, and, with South Africa’s violent crime problem, especially among youths, it would apparently be prudent to raise the drinking age.
The average rate for heavy drinking among drinkers in the most peaceful countries was 25.76%, ranging from a high of 52.4% in Austria to a low of 5.6% in New Zealand. South Africa, in comparison, has a rate of 25.6%.
The Concerned Tshwane Liquor Traders Association seconded the bill, with chairperson Oupa Mthombeni urging tavern owners to try by all means to abide by the law.
He said young people still needed to be developed psychologically and mentally, and alcohol did not allow that to occur. He said tavern owners, like himself, should not only have profit in mind but the community at heart.
The chairperson of Soshanguve youth movement Unleashing The Potential, Gift Mkhabelane, also agreed with the bill.
He argued that most people in matric were 18 years old and said it was contradictory when they were always told to study hard and stay away from alcohol. “It is contradictory to advise young people to study, yet give them the leeway to drink intoxicating beverages.”
Mothers Against Drunk Driving said: “Research indicates that when the minimum legal drinking age is 21, people under 21 drink less overall and continue to do so through their early 20s.
“When the drinking age has been lowered, injury and death rates significantly increased.”