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SAB Supports Measured Alcohol Restrictions, But Will Approach The Courts

The South African Breweries (SAB) has formed a part of the fabric of South Africa for the last 125 years and we have stood behind the nation through its triumphs and challenges.  SAB shares government’s concerns regarding the second wave resurgence and we remain determined to continue to collaborate and engage on meaningful, lawful measures that safeguard both the lives and livelihoods of our people, communities and country. During 2020 SAB worked hard to be a part of the solution.  In the absence of a vaccine, we have used our voice, our value chain, our distribution network and our marketing capabilities to help communicate the need for adherence to strict COVID-19 protocols and responsible consumption. 

Whilst SAB supports all lawful measures that curb the spread of the pandemic, including an earlier curfew to limit movement, reduced indoor and outdoor capacity at gatherings, measured alcohol restrictions by channel, and heightened law enforcement, we strongly disagree with the introduction of yet another outright ban on the sale of alcohol. SAB believes that any ban, including the current one goes far beyond what is reasonable and necessary to contain the spread of the virus and unlawfully restricts various rights that are enshrined and protected by our constitution. These include the right to freedom of trade, the right to human dignity, privacy, and the right to bodily and psychological integrity.

Challenging the constitutionality of the ban, which removes the South African public’s right as adults to responsibly consume a beer safely in the privacy of their own homes, is an integral part of SAB’s action. The damage to the South African economy and impact on the alcohol value chain arising from ban on the sale of alcohol is, in SAB’s view, disproportional and unlawful. 

The industry made representation to government on the 28th of December 2020 to consider several alternatives rather than imposing an outright nationwide ban on all formal sales of alcohol.  These alternatives, which were not taken into account, included: (i) restrictions on our trade channels, with taverns moving from on- to off-premise trading (ii) trading days and hours to remaining restricted for off-premise outlets. SAB firmly believes that the above proposed limitations coupled with an earlier curfew, would have been reasonable and effective in supporting the healthcare system and would help to mitigate transmission of the virus while still preserving livelihoods and keeping the economy open.

As seen with the last two bans, the unintended consequences of an outright ban on the sale of alcohol are dire.  Over 165 000 people have already lost their jobs with a further 100 000 people moving into poverty as a result of the alcohol bans. We have seen small and large businesses severely impacted, billions of rand lost in taxes, the entrenchment of illicit trading and the looting of alcohol stores.  Restricting the legal trade of alcohol fuels the growth of the illicit market, a fact that is widely acknowledged internationally. The illicit market is outside the regulatory reach of government, leading to devastating consequences from a health and economic perspective.

After much consideration, SAB has decided to approach the courts to challenge the constitutionality of the decision taken and process followed by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to re-ban the sale of alcohol.  This legal action is the last resort available to SAB in order to protect our employees, suppliers, customers, consumers and all the livelihoods we support.

It is vital that a balanced approach is adopted to ensure the safety of South Africans, whilst simultaneously supporting the economy, and without taking away fundamental rights protected by the constitution.

SAB calls on government to work closely with the alcohol industry to enable an earliest possible lifting of the ban on alcohol sales and in order to collaborate in finding lawful and sustainable solutions that assist in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. SAB is and always will be committed to promoting and endorsing the responsible consumption and sale of alcohol. SAB calls on all South Africans, consumers and traders alike, to be safe and responsible.

South African Breweries remains committed to the people of South Africa, safeguarding their lives, livelihoods and their constitutional rights with the hopes that they can enjoy consuming beer responsibly once again.