In a statement released on behalf of the South African Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba), the organisation said both men are accomplished academics associated with the University of Cape Town (Ncayiyana is a retired professor of medicine and Van Niekerk a former deputy dean of the Health Sciences Faculty at UCT) and they currently serve as board members of the SA Drug Policy Initiative.
In an article published in the Sunday Times, Prof Ncayiyana and Van Niekerk jointly argued against the claim that that the reduction in emergency hospital admissions was due to the ban on alcohol sales, saying they “were based on a belief more than any hard data”.
“The belief that cases of alcohol-related violence will reoccur in trauma units if alcohol sales resume is an unsubstantiated and self-fulling assumption.
“The much-touted benefits of the alcohol ban of reducing alcohol-related injury admissions – independent of the larger impact of the lockdown itself – has not been demonstrated, and relies instead on beliefs in what in what may be the classic case of confirmation bias. It is unacceptable to rely on the belief that if the ban were lifted, people will not confine this [consumption] to their homes.
“Countries in lockdown, but without the alcohol ban, have also seen their emergency admissions significantly plummet,” they argued.
Ncayiyana and Van Niekerk also brought to the fore the major problem of illicit trade of alcohol, which SA Revenue Services commissioner Edward Kieswetter told Parliament had already cost the state more than R1.5 billion in lost taxes.
The wine industry has also been plunged into devastation overnight, with tens of thousands of jobs now on the line as many smaller wineries look destined to shut down.
“Alcohol is largely available to those who want it, and those are likely to be the hard drinkers. Home brewing has also shifted into high gear. In reality, the ban cedes control of the alcohol market to the criminal underworld. South Africa’s black market supplies the demand, aided by corrupt police,” said Ncayiyana and Van Niekerk.
“The ban of alcohol (and cigarettes) is unsustainable and runs the risk of undermining public goodwill and alienating citizens who expect and deserve to be treated like adults, with respect and trust.”
Responding to the article, Salba spokesperson Sibani Mngadi said it was important for government to consider balanced and objective advice from experts in its handling of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“The unfortunate situation of the Covid-19 outbreak should not be used to settle long-standing political debate on how alcohol should be regulated. Disaster regulations need to focus primarily on containing the spread of infections and minimising deaths.
“The sale of alcohol for home consumption through outlets that observe social distancing or home deliveries should have no effect in spreading infections. There is therefore no rational argument for it to be banned,” said Mngadi.
(Edited by Charles Cilliers)