Regulatory News South Africa

SAB to challenge latest alcohol ban in court

South African Breweries (SAB) is heading to court to pursue legal action against the latest 14-day blanket ban on alcohol sales.
SAB to challenge latest alcohol ban in court
© Sergey Peterman - 123RF

The brewer, part of Anheuser-Busch InBev, says the decision announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening was taken with no consultation or explanation, and that "the use of blanket bans is unsustainable and continues to exacerbate the job loss and economic decline across the beer and alcohol value chain."

The company said in a statement, "As an organisation, SAB believes it is left with no other alternative but to defend its rights and take legal action, to protect its business and urgently overturn this decision. This move seeks to gain policy certainty, greater transparency in decision-making for the future sustainability of its business and value chain. This additional challenge does not detract from the first legal challenge instituted by SAB earlier in the year, and that challenge is still in process."

SAB said that it and industry partners made submissions to the NCCC, but these recommendations were not considered and another blanket ban was announced without consultation.

This is the fourth alcohol sales ban in the last 15 months, and SAB said it's concerned by the "continued discrimination of the legal alcohol trade", resulting in a burgeoning illicit industry in the country.

"The current ban, which is unsubstantiated by robust scientific evidence, has been implemented at a time when the industry was already gearing itself for future stability and was ready to play its part in the country’s economic recovery," SAB said.

Calls for more rational measures

The Beer Association of South Africa (Basa) came out in support of SAB's court application, saying that while the beer industry is committed to working with government to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 third wave, "this cannot be at the expense of businesses and critical jobs within the sector".

Basa said, "As a member of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), Basa has made a number of submissions to the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints) on interventions to stop the spread of infections and ease pressure on the national health system. Our members have also contributed funding to support the national health system and have offered to assist government with its vaccination drive.

"Yet, despite these engagements, the national government has failed to make available the scientific data on which it has based its decision to shut down the beer industry for a fourth time over the past 15 months. This includes any data that proves there is a causal link between beer sales and the spread of Covid-19. In the absence of this evidence, a blanket ban on the alcohol industry is irrational."

SAB added, "The South African Breweries is very sensitive to the difficulties and plight we face as a nation in the fight against Covid-19. SAB fully understands the seriousness of this third wave and agrees that lawful and reasonable measures are needed to curb the spread of the pandemic to save both lives and livelihoods.

"These measures include earlier curfew times to limit movement, reduced indoor and outdoor capacity at gatherings, heightened law enforcement and the amplification of adherence to non-pharmaceutical interventions. There is no scientific link that the consumption of alcohol raises the risk of contracting Covid-19 especially if alcohol is consumed safely and responsibly in the comfort of one’s home."

The brewer reiterated its willingness to partner with the government and its peers in the industry to support the fight against Covid-19. "SAB implores government to urgently strengthen the partnership with business to accelerate the rollout of Covid-19 vaccine - protect millions of lives and livelihoods," the company said.

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