Why Ramaphosa had to ban sale of alcohol again

People should not think they are on forced rehab

In Summary

• Boozing leads to crash and assault victims, which strains hospitals, he said 'roho safi'

A woman looks on as men drink beer at a sheeben (bar) in Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg
A woman looks on as men drink beer at a sheeben (bar) in Soweto, southwest of Johannesburg

I am hoping that if nothing else, the Covid-19 crisis has taught political leaders to start trusting that voters can handle the truth, no matter how unpalatable it may seem at first. 

On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation and reinstated the ban on the sale of alcohol. 

Ramaphosa had very good reasons for doing it, and he took the great South African public into his confidence, in the same way as he did back in March when the lockdown show got underway.


The reaction wasn’t great. In fact, if you go by social media, you’d think the government banned booze as a punishment. 


Here’s what Ramaphosa said: “As we head towards the peak of infections, it is vital that we do not burden our clinics and hospitals with alcohol-related injuries that could have been avoided.

“This is a fight to save every life, and we need to save every bed. We have, therefore, decided that in order to conserve hospital capacity, the sale, dispensing and distribution of alcohol will be suspended with immediate effect.”

Bringing in a night-time curfew, Ramaphosa said, “There is now clear evidence that the resumption of alcohol sales has resulted in substantial pressure being put on hospitals, including trauma and ICU units, due to motor vehicle accidents, violence and related trauma.

“Most of these and other trauma injuries occur at night. Therefore, as an additional measure to reduce the pressure on hospitals, a curfew will be put in place between the hours of 9pm and 4am.” 

This was vintage laying of cards face up on the table, let the chips fall where they may. It reminded me of when the government trotted out scientists to explain the scientific reason for the Hard Lockdown and additional alert-level restrictions.

The public got that it was important to slow the spread and prepare health systems. We also understood that the government would do its utmost to ensure this happened in a way that allowed for safe economic activity that would let people still manage to put food on the table.


Here in the Western Cape, the harsh reality is that during Alert Level 4 and Hard Lockdown, when alcohol sales were initially banned, we saw a marked decrease in the number of murders.

The province also saw a significant decrease in the number of admissions to its hospital facilities for alcohol-related trauma events. 


However, almost the minute sales were unbanned on June 1, there was an almost immediate and notable increase in the number of murders and a surge in trauma admissions again.

The link between alcohol and violence is well established in South Africa. 

As the government has said all of this 'roho safi', as it were, hopefully people have understood that the ban on alcohol sales is for their own good and they are not on some sort of forced rehab.

There is really hardly any doubt that banning consumption of alcohol will reduce pressure on hospital emergency wards.  Even the thirstiest boozer gets it.

Meanwhile, another of the negative effects of the pandemic has been the economic squeeze.

Here in South Africa, almost as a matter of course it has meant that foreigners (in particular black ones from elsewhere in Africa) have once again been targeted for blame.

Last week, it was the turn of Somali traders in the ordinarily peaceful West Coast town of Saldanha Bay 

Looking for an explanation I spoke to academic who said: “Xenophobic violence has been seen by many as the only mechanism that can be used to drive away foreign nationals who compete with citizens to have access to labour market, national resources and other opportunities.”

And the world keeps on turning.