Alcohol sales ban was not thought through and 'has no merit', says SAB

The reduction in trauma cases also correlates with other tightened restrictions such as curfews and limitations on gatherings, argues SAB. File photo.
The reduction in trauma cases also correlates with other tightened restrictions such as curfews and limitations on gatherings, argues SAB. File photo.
Image: 123RF/Vladislavs Gorniks

South African Breweries (SAB) has argued that the government’s assertion that its decision to ban the sale of alcohol was taken carefully is without merit.

“It quite manifestly was not, in that the government had not commissioned any proper investigation into the deleterious effects of such a ban and was therefore not in a position to have any regard to the issue,” said Richard Rivett-Carnac, SAB vice-president of finance in a replying affidavit.

SAB is challenging the government’s alcohol ban, imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, in the Western Cape High Court despite it now being lifted.

The challenge, according to SAB lawyers, was “in the interests of legal certainty and ... to ensure that its [SAB's] continued business operations are not interrupted unnecessarily by further unlawful and unconstitutional prohibitions”.

The government has argued that the recent alcohol ban, which President Cyril Ramaphosa lifted this month, did not breach any part of the bill of rights. Even if a right had been limited, this was justifiable under the constitution.

Rivett-Carnac argued in his affidavit that the government had failed to set out “verifiable, objective, and indisputable facts” regarding temporary and permanent job losses, among others.

“I wish to point out that whenever the respondents and their advisers point to a reduction in trauma cases that correlates with the alcohol ban, that reduction also correlates with other restrictions such as curfews, limitations on gatherings, prohibition of crowds in stadiums, closure of cinemas and casinos and restrictions on restaurants.”

He said when trauma cases increased again, that correlated not only with the easing of the alcohol ban, but with the easing of other restrictions.

SAB found the allegation that it demonstrated no reverence for the dignity of health-care workers and lacked empathy to be “insulting”.

“I emphasise that SAB did not object to the first two complete alcohol bans, or the restrictions on the sale of alcohol that had been in place since March 2020 ... That said, these measures must be reasonable, necessary and justifiable,” argued Rivett-Carnac.

He denied that it was the resumption of alcohol sales that resulted in pressure at hospitals caused by motor vehicle accidents, violence and related trauma.

“No evidence is cited in support of this bare assertion.”

The government had also not provided any evidence that it had taken the economic consequences of the alcohol ban into account before the decision to reimpose it, Rivett-Carnac argued. He said the drop in trauma admissions on New Year’s Eve in 2020 was more likely the result of the curfew imposed at the time.

“Since the alcohol ban had been in place for only two days, most people who consume alcohol beverages would have had supplies of alcohol at home for New Year’s Eve.”

Rivett-Carnac argued the alcohol ban did not help reduce trauma cases.

“The impugned regulations were introduced without any warning and so manufacturers were not afforded an opportunity to divert local supplies to the export market.”

Rivett-Carnac said it was never suggested that government should not regulate an industry, but rather the regulation should be constitutionally justifiable.

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