EDITORIAL | Legal clarity on booze bans is vital
Lives and livelihoods need to be saved, so it is imperative a balance is found when it comes to alcohol
It was hard to argue with the government’s logic behind its alcohol sales ban when photos emerged of empty casualty wards on New Year’s Day. It is uncontested: restricting access to alcohol did free up hospital beds during a raging pandemic. Yet it does not mean SA Breweries (SAB) has taken the wrong decision by continuing with its court case against the government. Cooperative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma last week filed more than 1,000 papers in the Western Cape High Court to defend the booze ban, as SAB lawyers insisted the matter went ahead, despite a recent relaxation of restrictions allowing alcohol sales from Mondays to Thursdays.
SAB said it believed going ahead with the matter was “in the interests of legal certainly and ... to ensure that its continued business operations are not interrupted unnecessarily by further unlawful and unconstitutional prohibitions”. The government argues the prohibitions did not breach any rights in the Bill of Rights and even if a right was limited, this was justifiable.
It is high time we get clarity from the courts on the matter. It might also be a good idea for the liquor industry and the government to talk. A complete shutdown of the industry has dire economic consequences and there may be a midway in at least allowing for the export of wine to continue. There also needs to be a uniform decision on tax relief to keep businesses afloat during a ban. Vinpro, which represents 2,500 local wine producers, earlier this year warned of business closures and job losses when it again asked for a deferment of excise duty. Last year, when the sale of alcohol was banned for more than four months, the government deferred R5bn in excise taxes for July and August. The industry needs to know the same will be applied in future...