Alcohol ban will lead to Prohibition-era gangsterism and deaths
As it lobbies for a relaxing of the alcohol sales ban during lockdown, SAB says the country should learn lessons from the Prohibition era.
Still reeling from the loss of 400-million bottles of beer that had to be destroyed this week, SAB is continuing its efforts to lobby government to allow beer and other alcohol sales.
The brewing giant has now warned that the country could enter an Al Capone-style era of illicit alcohol brewing and selling if the ban is not lifted.
Such an era would dramatically increase alcohol-related deaths due to unregulated brewing and distilling processes, fuel criminality and gansterism, create criminals out of ordinary citizens, and loose the state coffers an estimated R6-billion in revenue, the company claims.
Lessons from Prohibition in the United States
The so-called Prohibition era in the US, during which all alcohol sales were banned, lasted from 1919 to 1933. It spawned a huge illicit alcohol industry and fabulously wealthy criminal gangs led by the likes of the legendary Al Capone.
It also led to an enormous death rate from acute alcohol poisoning that was said to be more than 30 times higher than it is today. In addition, alcohol smuggling from neighbouring Canada and elsewhere created a massive industry that lost the US government millions in tax revenues.
Our alcohol-sales regulations are extreme
“The regulatory position taken towards alcohol in South Africa has definitely been on the extreme end of the spectrum when compared to lockdown measures put in place by other countries,” says Hellen Ndlovu, director of regulatory and public policy at SAB.
“In some countries where bans were instituted the governments quickly reversed them when it became clear that the unintended consequences were worse than the initial perceived threats. Naturally these consequences included spikes in illicit alcohol trade and deaths related to the consumption of unsafe illicit substances.”
Public acceptance of the ban has now faded
She warns that law that few people agree with requires massive enforcement if government wants it to succeed.
“In the first weeks of the lockdown, South African citizens generally accepted the ban of alcohol sales in light of the initial high levels of uncertainty and turmoil. As time passed, the acceptance and understanding of the purpose of a prolonged ban on alcohol faded fast.”
She says the growing illegal sales of all types of alcohol at exorbitant prices, and the spike in looting of alcohol stores and storage facilities, has been widely reported. The consequence is that an already strained police force is now tasked to deal with additional problems, while the resulting legal further burden an already overloaded legal system.
What should be done next?
According to Ndlovu, a measured and considered approach around alcohol during COVID-19 is both possible and viable in South Africa.
“These measures can include limiting the amount of alcohol that can be purchased, introducing online sales, trading hour restrictions for stores selling for personal consumption, and opening up sales of lower alcohol-by-volume products only.”
If SAB’s plea is unsuccessful, could we see our own Prohibition-era tommy-gun toting Koos ‘Al’ Capone in his Golf GTi being chased by lawman man Elliott ‘Ness’ Nkosi? Let’s hope not.