South African Breweries (SAB) said it would go to court to challenge the constitutionality of the government’s decision to ban alcohol for the third time since last March as part of efforts to rein in the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the ban 10 days ago as he moved the country back into a stricter “level 3” Covid-19 lockdown amid a spike in infections in a second wave of the pandemic.
The Beer Association of South Africa, which comprises the Craft Brewers Association, Heineken South Africa and SAB, has already condemned the ban, saying small brewers in particular might not be able to stay in business as a result.
In a statement dated Wednesday, SAB said it supported measured alcohol restrictions but disagreed with an outright ban on its sale.
“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,” it said.
“These include the right to freedom of trade, the right to human dignity, privacy, and the right to bodily and psychological integrity.”
The brewer, a subsidiary of global giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, said challenging the constitutionality of the ban, which removed the South African public’s right as adults to responsibly consume a beer safely in the privacy of their own homes, was an integral part of its court action.
The damage to the economy and the impact on the alcohol value chain arising from the ban was disproportional and unlawful, it said, adding that the industry had made representations to the government to consider alternatives but these were not taken on board.
These included restrictions on trade channels — with taverns moving from on- to off-premise trading — and keeping trading days and hours restricted for off-premise outlets.
SAB said the previous two alcohol bans relating to Covid-19 had resulted in over 165 000 people losing their jobs and a further 100 000 falling into poverty.
“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,” it said.
“Restricting the legal trade of alcohol fuels the growth of the illicit market, a fact that is widely acknowledged internationally.”
Taking the matter to court was the last resort in order to protect its employees, suppliers, customers, consumers and all livelihoods supported by the company, SAB said.
It urged the government to work with the alcohol industry towards the earliest possible lifting of the ban and to collaborate in finding lawful and sustainable solutions in fighting Covid-19.
“SAB is and always will be committed to promoting and endorsing the responsible consumption and sale of alcohol,” it added.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government says the ban is necessary to avoid overwhelming South Africa’s healthcare centres — already stretched to the limit by a spike in Covid-19 patients — with additional trauma cases related to drunkenness.