Updated 21 January 2016

Taverns flourish as drinking legislation stalls

Alcohol remains a killer on the country's roads, and despite government proposals to curb drinking holes, taverns continue to flourish.


Soweto's Braamfischerville neighbourhood is home to about 55,000 people and it boasts 2,500 taverns - or about one drinking establishment for every 22 residents, according to Community Forum Police statistics released in late 2014. About a quarter of Braamfischerville's residents are under the age of 20 years old, according to the 2011 Census.

Bar owners report business is brisk in the neighbourhood with some outlets reporting hundreds of customers a day.

Tsakane Nkhwashu has run Tsakane's Tavern in Braamfischerville Phase 1 for about a decade and sells alcohol alongside groceries. 

"Every weekend (the) alcohol goes … as a result of about 200 customers buying alcohol a day," said Nkhwashu, adding that beers and ciders are his top sellers.

Quiz: Take this test to see if you aredrinking too much

In December, sales rise steeply according to the licensed vendor.

Nearby, Mduduzi Zwane recently took over Sibongile's Place, a tavern started by his mother, Sibongile.

He claims he can see 1,000 customers a day during the festive season, but adds he has also seen the dark side of drinking.

"In December time … I cannot even sleep due to so many people buying alcohol," said Zwane, adding that he has seen people hurt and held up at gunpoint by people under the influence of alcohol.

Last week, Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters reported that the country had experienced a 14 percent increase in road fatalities this festive season. Some 1,755 people lost their lives on roads between 1 December and 11 January.

According to Peters, weekends were deadly and Saturday accidents comprised almost a quarter of all fatal crashes recorded during the period.

Most likely to die were South Africans between the ages 25 and 39 years, who accounted for almost half of all drivers who died, and  a third of all passenger and pedestrian deaths.

Read: SA implements 5 year plan to end drug abuse and trafficking

Peters cited alcohol as one of the key drivers of festive fatalities.

A study published in  the South African Medical Journal in 2014 estimated that alcohol cost South Africa an estimated R37.9 billion in just one year in related road accidents, crime and ill health. 

Savera Kalideen is an advocacy manager at the Soul City, which runs the PhuzaWise campaign to encourage responsible drinking.

Kalideen says more random breathalyser tests could help to curb drunk driving deaths. Meanwhile, Kalideen says efforts to enact legislation to curb alcohol abuse are slow.

In 2013, Cabinet approved the release of the Department of Health's Control of Marketing of Alcohol Beverages Bill for public comment. 

An initial 2011 impact assessment by analyst Chris Moerdyk found that if made into law the bill would result in a loss of R2.5 billion in advertising revenue and about 2,500 low-paying jobs, according to Soul City.

According to Kalideen, the Department of Health was then asked to conduct a second study to ascertain the bill's possible impact on sport sponsorship and television.

"That was more than a year ago," she said. "There's nothing new coming out of it (the assessment), but the minister does say the legislation will go through."

Meanwhile, the Department of Trade and Industry's draft liquor policy, published for public comment in May 2015, proposes raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 years.

The policy also proposed nationally  banning liquor sales within 500 m of schools, places of worship or residential areas. The policy is currently being revised, according to Kalideen.

Read more:

Is your colleague an alcoholic?

Why you should kick your drinking habit

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome is sky high in South Africa

The evils of drink

Image: Tavern in South Africa from iStock


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