Cape Town - As a country with among the worst drinking habits in the world, the government says it’s left with no choice but to raise the legal drinking limit from 18 to 21 years.
It also plans to make the manufacturers and suppliers of alcohol to unlicensed retailers liable for accidents that lead to death or injury, in attempts to get a grip on one of South Africa’s major societal ills.
The estimated annual costs of alcohol-related health care, crime and social welfare, treatment, road traffic accidents and the prevention thereof, is R37.9 billion.
A recent study revealed that at 60 percent, South Africa’s alcohol consumption population is higher than the worldwide average of 52 percent.
Raising the legal drinking limit to 21 would put South Africa on par with the US, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Sri Lanka, which are among only 12 countries in the world which impose the same limit.
Trade Minister Rob Davies announced a raft of new amendments to the Liquor Act at Parliament on Monday, along with amendments to the Gambling Act.
“South Africa has a significant problem of alcohol abuse. The figures are telling us that it’s not getting better. More drastic measures are needed for this very serious national problem,” said Davies.
According to the Liquor Amendment Bill, unlicensed liquor retailers will be held liable for any harm resulting from the negligence of a person who purchased the alcohol from them.
Davies said alcohol manufacturers had to start taking measures to ensure their products did not end up with illegal suppliers.
“We want to encourage people in the industry to behave more responsibly,” he said.
The Cabinet approved the final liquor policy, which guides the proposed amendments to the Act, two weeks ago.
According to the policy, South Africans consume between 10 and 12.4 litres of pure alcohol per year compared to a worldwide average consumption of 6.2 litres.
“The situation is getting worse. It can’t just be business as usual,” said Davies.
The clampdown will include a ban on liquor outlets at petrol service stations and at taxi, bus and other public transport hubs.
Those selling or supplying alcohol will be held liable for checking that a person is overthe legal drinking age of 21.
Stricter regulations are also being placed on liquor advertising, which may not target or attract people under the new legal drinking age.
The advertisement will also have to indicate the harmful effects of alcohol.
Billboards advertising liquor will not be allowed within 100m of junctions, street corners and traffic circles, while the manufacture, distribution or retail of liquor in both rural and urban communities will be prohibited within 500m of schools, places of worship, recreational facilities, rehabilitation and treatment centres, public institutions and other amenities.
The Trade Minister will also be permitted to prescribe timeslots for the broadcast of liquor ads on radio and television.
On the other hand, the draft national gambling amendment bill provides for the recognition of a self-regulating body for the horse racing industry, places restrictions on gambling advertisements, unsolicited advertisements and promotions, while also strengthening regulations for casinos, pay-out machines and electronic bingo.
Davies said the new gambling laws would tighten the screws on online gamblers by confiscating their winnings. “We’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” he said.
Online gambling remains illegal in South Africa.
The national gambling board will now become a regulatory authority operating under a chief executive officer within the department of trade and industry.
There are 40 licensed casinos in South Africa, and Davies said the government did not plan to increase the number of licences permitted to be issued in each of the provinces.
Davies said he was hoping for broad public input on both bills - not only from the affected industries on which the legislation would have a direct impact.
The Medical Research Council said South Africans consume about 5 billion litres of alcoholic beverages per year, while an estimated 1 million people are affected by foetal alcohol syndrome.
The bills are open for public input until November 14.