Liquor manufacturers and distributors association the South African Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) reports that, while there has been widespread compliance by the general public in relation to new alcohol regulations, law enforcement agencies need to be rigorous in dealing with illegal alcohol sales and the production of counterfeit products.
Currently, alcohol sales and the private transportation of alcoholic products are banned for 14 days (from December 29) under the adjusted Covid-19 Alert Level 3 regulations in an effort to free up hospital bed space as healthcare facilities reach higher capacities as the virus surges in the second wave.
The organisation also notes that the total prohibition on all formal alcohol sales poses the risk of growing the network of alcohol smugglers who respond to the current environment of unmet consumer demand for alcoholic products.
These illegal activities include concealed, illegal movement of products, as well as the industrial scale production of counterfeit alcohol.
In terms of the current total alcohol sales ban, Salba says it welcomes the general positive behaviour among South Africans over the New Year weekend in compliance with lockdown Alert Level 3 regulations.
Salba chairperson Sibani Mngadi notes that a large number of South Africans observed the current regulations.
“Our observation is that many South Africans stayed at home during this period in line with the extended curfew of 20:00 to 06:00, leading to the reduction in the potential injuries arising from interpersonal and group interaction at night, movement of traffic and other risk factors for trauma.”
While many consumers would have stocked alcoholic drinks ahead of the New Year, he says there have been no concerns about compliance with the ban on drinking in public.
“Under the current circumstances where we need to curtail all forms of gathering to slow down the spread of infections, home consumption remains the safe option for those who chose to consume alcohol.
"In addition to reducing the exposure of Covid-19 infections, home consumption also reduces the risk of drinking and driving which is historically prevalent during the festive season.”
Mngadi urges the public to travel safely as the large number of people return from holidays and continue to observe lockdown regulations, particularly the mandatory wearing of face masks when in public places. “This is critical to our country’s effort to flatten the curve of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In terms of counterfeit products, Salba reports that one of its member companies reported an armed robbery at a production facility in Durban on December 30 where thousands of bottle closures (caps) were stolen.
“One of the illicit alcohol practices is to refill used, branded bottles with illegal alcohol, reseal them and sell that to consumers. This practice poses a major health risk to consumers,” he says.
Meanwhile, according to a study by strategic market research provider Euromonitor, the alcohol industry loses R12.9-billion in gross revenue a year to illicit trade, which converts to a loss of R6.4-billion in alcohol tax contribution to the South African Revenue Service.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 24% of the alcohol market in South Africa is illicit.
The legal alcohol sector contributes R72-billion to the government’s fiscus by way of taxation, value-added tax and excise and in 2019, the alcohol sector contributed 3.4% (R173-billion) of South Africa’s nominal gross domestic product.