Bootleg alcohol is popular across SA

Alcohol consumption/Photograph: TJ Lemon

Alcohol consumption/Photograph: TJ Lemon

Published May 25, 2024


Health authorities have sounded the alarm about a spike in fake or illegally produced alcohol, which they say is easily available across South Africa. They have also warned consumers about adverse effects caused by illicit alcohol, including blindness and death.

Fake alcohol is produced at unlicensed distilleries, homes or makeshift factories and is packaged to look like authentic brands, with the same look and feel.

According to experts, the black market makes an estimated R23.4 billion a year through the manufacturing and selling of illicit spirits.

Independent Media spoke to some people who have consumed fake alcohol. One of them was Katlehong resident Sipho Mlangeni, who said he was convinced that he had consumed fake alcohol which he bought from a local tavern.

“I think the fake alcohol, which was sold during lockdown due to Covid-19, is back. One time three friends and I bought and drank one bottle of whisky. By the end of the night we were all drunk. In the morning when I raised my head, it was spinning. That was when I concluded that it was fake alcohol,” said Mlangeni.

During the prohibition of alcohol sales during lockdown, thousands of people accessed bogus alcohol and sold it to desperate consumers. Many said it was expensive.

Driving around different drinking spots and taverns in Gauteng, one cannot help but notice people buying a beverage called “munyumunu” which has between 40% and 49% of alcohol. When consuming it, people suck an unbranded plastic container.

Locals said they bought dangerous beverages because it was cheaper than taxed alcohol sold at licensed stores.

“I drink munyumunyu just to make me drunk and happy. I pay between R2.50 and R10.00. This alcoholic beverage is affordable. I am unemployed and I receive a R350 grant every month to survive,” said Tshepo Mokoena, a resident of Vosloorus, Ekurhuleni.

Qualified dietitian Lebo Koitsioe said vodka is the most faked spirit.

Koitsioe said properly produced and certified alcoholic drinks were made with ethanol which was a type of alcohol approved for human consumption.

Experts said fake alcoholic drinks could be produced using other, cheaper types of alcohol and could contain unsafe chemicals used in substances such as antifreeze, screen wash and nail polish remover.

“Consuming fake alcohol can have serious health consequences with the worst-case scenario being death. Please seek medical advice and visit your nearest clinic or hospital if you think you’ve consumed fake alcohol,” said Koitsioe.

Last year IOL reported that Diageo SA Corporate Relations Director Sibani Mngadi also warned that such products were putting job security at risk across the liquor industry as they reduced consumer confidence in some of its brands. The implications of consuming illegal spirits were severe as they contained “very high amounts of ethanol, which increases the risk of poisoning”.

Mngadi raised concerns about the taxman losing about R8.5bn, which should have been collected as sin tax annually as illegal liquor distributors were not tax compliant.

Some of the symptoms associated with consuming fake alcohol include, but are not limited to:



Loss of coordination


Irregular or slow breathing

Blue-tinged or pale skin

Low body temperature (hypothermia)

Stupor (being conscious but unresponsive)

Unconsciousness (passing out)

| Additiol reporting from IOL

Saturday Star

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