Avatar photo

By Sydney Majoko

Writer


Alcohol ban is logical, but nature and timing are all wrong

The lack of foresight in planning will just encourage binge drinking and alcohol hoarding whenever the ban is lifted again.


There is a tale about a university student who sits for an exam and misreads the question. The student proceeds to write a beautiful 50-page essay which leaves the professor impressed with how much the student had grasped the content of the course. But he gives the student a zero, commenting “excellent answer, wrong assignment.” President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement to shut down the sale of alcohol as a response to the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases looks like that: a logical response to the pandemic, but its nature and timing are all wrong. The logic is simple: when South Africans…

Subscribe to continue reading this article
and support trusted South African journalism

Access PREMIUM news, competitions
and exclusive benefits

SUBSCRIBE
Already a member? SIGN IN HERE

There is a tale about a university student who sits for an exam and misreads the question. The student proceeds to write a beautiful 50-page essay which leaves the professor impressed with how much the student had grasped the content of the course. But he gives the student a zero, commenting “excellent answer, wrong assignment.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement to shut down the sale of alcohol as a response to the rising numbers of Covid-19 cases looks like that: a logical response to the pandemic, but its nature and timing are all wrong.

The logic is simple: when South Africans indulge in alcohol they do it in excess, leading to high cases of injuries resulting from fights and car accidents. The injured then take up space in hospital – space needed for Covid-19 patients. This was also the reason liquor sales were shut down through April and May.

But shutting liquor sales down again confirms that the National Coronavirus Command Council has tap-danced from right to wrong and back again with very little concern for the consequences of their indecision. The president and his council are refusing to learn from the lessons the hard lockdown has provided, lending credence to the saying “history teaches, but it has no pupils”.

The first ban on alcohol resulted in an immediate black market that actually took away the police from their core function during the pandemic: ensuring adherence to social distancing regulations. The men and women in blue became instant liquor inspectors and some saw the market as being so lucrative they became bootleggers.

In times of crisis, the ability to demonstrate logical reasoning and imagination should be what sets exceptional leaders apart from bureaucrats. Some of the most imaginative suggestions following the first liquor ban were that instead of completely shutting down an industry that sustains millions of people, rather impose extraordinarily high taxes on alcohol. That way alcohol would be inaccessible to the majority of South Africans while continuing to contribute to the country’s much-needed revenue.

South Africa ranks amongst the world’s highest alcohol-consuming nations. The first part of the lockdown was meant to give government time to prepare for the storm the country is in now. But in dealing with the country’s known alcohol consumption, the only preparation the government did was to ban, unban and then ban again. It is those extremes that are making the problem worse in the long term.

Without a vaccine, this pandemic is going to be around for some time and government’s planning needs to reflect that. The lack of foresight in planning and total extremes around alcohol regulation will just encourage binge drinking and alcohol hoarding whenever the ban is lifted again, whether or not the pandemic is still around, creating a rather permanent problem for the government healthcare system.

The alcohol industry should never have been put in this position: a dispensable industry selling an almost criminalised product. The government can redeem itself going forward by displaying long-term planning and injecting some imagination into its strategy around alcohol and the pandemic. These kneejerk reactions are doing more harm than good.

Sydney Majoko.

For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.

Read more on these topics

Columns

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits