MEC Patricia De Lille's Speech at the 2nd Annual Western Cape Liquor Conference | Western Cape Government


MEC Patricia De Lille's Speech at the 2nd Annual Western Cape Liquor Conference

22 October 2010

MEC Alan Winde
Heads of Department
Officials from Departments in the Western Cape Government and City of Cape Town
Guests from Civil Society, the Liquor Industry and Liquor Associations
Members of the Media

Good morning.

I would like to thank MEC Alan Winde for inviting me to speak at the 2nd Western Cape Annual Liquor Conference.

Minister, I would also like to thank you for deciding to host the Liquor Conference on an annual basis.

This is an extremely important platform for all of us to decide what is in the best interests of all the people of the Western Cape, at least in relation to alcohol and its impact on our society.

Even though all of the stakeholders here will not always agree on everything, at least we are all talking.

To give all of you an idea of the importance of this issue to the Government of the Western Cape I would like to share the following facts with you this morning:

  • Alcohol is the third greatest contributor to death and disability in SA
  • The two biggest contributors are unsafe sex and interpersonal violence, both of which are usually also linked to alcohol abuse
  • Alcohol abuse places a massive burden on our economy
  • Of the R9 billion budget of the Western Cape Government, an estimated R3 billion is spent on dealing with the harm caused by alcohol in this province
  • While South Africa is amongst the top three heaviest drinking nations in the world, the Western Cape has the highest number of heavy drinkers and the highest proportion of binge drinkers in the country
  • The Western Cape is therefore the drinking capital of South Africa
  • All the other harms caused by alcohol, such as violence, child abuse, road accidents, mental illness and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, also have a negative impact on the development of the Western Cape
  • Of all these harms, violence is the worst by far, taking up 39% of the total.
  • After that comes mental illness, which includes alcohol abuse and dependence, depression and anxiety, at 18%
  • Next is road accidents and medical illnesses, like Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, of which South Africa has the highest in the world
  • In some parts of the Western Cape 7 or 8% of all the children have Foetal Alcohol Syndrome

We must remember that there is no cure for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, because these children are born with brain damage that influences behaviour and learning capabilities.

This is the reality of day-to-day life for Western Cape communities.

In fact, in terms of the damage alcohol abuse is inflicting on our society, alcohol is worse than Tik or any other drug.

Police tell us they see far more alcohol-related violence than violence caused by other drugs.

In around 60% of all violent deaths in the Western Cape, the person has a significant amount of alcohol in their blood.

In a province where our people are crying out for houses and better services, just imagine what we could do with an extra R1 billion, saved from that R3 billion we spend mitigating the harm caused by alcohol.

I am not going to discuss the Amendment Bill here because I think it would be a big mistake for anyone to underestimate the resolve of the Western Cape Government when it comes to passing this Bill by the end of this year.

As the Minister of Social Development I am also not going to shy away from the truth.

The truth is that the multiple programmes Government is running to educate our people about the dangers of alcohol abuse will not achieve much for as long as the liquor industry is the largest conveyer of information on alcohol to the public.

From May 2001 to April 2002 the liquor industry spent R342 million on above the line advertising.

Meanwhile, Government was spending billions trying to deal with the negative impacts of alcohol on our society,on our roads, in our hospitals, our schools, families, etc; that there was hardly a cent remaining for counter-advertising.

This R342 million does not include below the line advertising, like sports sponsorships, sponsored entertainment and other promotions, which together add hundreds of millions more to the total.

To be fair, there was a small amount of money going into other messages around drinking.

This was coming mainly from the industry itself in the form of small print warnings on screens and bottles.

In a letter to a Cape Town newspaper Dr Charles Parry, Director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Unit at the Medical Research Council, wrote, and I quote,
"Through this (advertising) the industry conveys the idea that alcohol consumption is to be equated with friendship, patriotism, being cool and success."

Some in the industry differ, saying that advertising only affects brand choices and not consumption.

However, global evidence has shown that the more one is exposed to alcohol advertising, the greater your chances are of starting to drink, and the more likely you are to drink more heavily.

Let's face it, South African Breweries wouldn't be spending over R220 million a year on advertising if it wasn't working.

It is also the kind of advertising our society is subjected to, that is a problem.

Take the massive billboards in our townships, most of them displaying macho and sexy themes.

The men around the corner playing pool in the local shebeen look very different to the muscular men on the billboard, who are enjoying a cold beer after a long day at work.

The men in the shebeen, many of them drinking away money needed for food, maintenance and education for their children and other necessities, are thin and sick.

I think a more accurate picture on the billboard would be of the Nigerian doctor at the Khayelitsha trauma centre, who says he sees more trauma cases in one day over the weekend than he did in 10 years of practice back home, or how about Tygerberg trauma staff saying that more than 90% of their patients have been drinking heavily?

Over the next few years, after the Amendment Bill has been passed, we are going to have to start implementing more solutions.

I am of the view that a good place to start would be to investigate the impact of curbing alcohol advertising.

According to a Medical Research Council study, many, many South Africans also share this view.

However, even before we reach that stage, I am asking the liquor industry to remove all of the billboard advertisements around our province, especially those in our townships.

I trust that you will support me on this.

Secondly, we should look at taxing wine and sorghum beer in line with tax levels on other alcoholic beverages.

It is unacceptable that an estimated 80% of wine sold in South Africa is sold at under R13 a bottle.

These are just two solutions in our holistic approach towards overcoming the excessive consumption of alcohol.

Other solutions worth considering are:

  • increasing excise taxes on alcohol products
  • increasing access to affordable and effective treatment and rehabilitation
  • implementing strategies for licensing liquor outlets that are sensitive to public health concerns, which the Amendment Bill is doing
  • enforcing laws relating to drinking and driving, and the promotion of "sensible" drinking
  • last but certainly not least, engaging with communities to find ways of stopping the cycle of substance abuse. In this regard, I would like to commend the extensive public participation the Amendment Bill offers communities when licenses are considered

Please don't get me wrong.

In a healthy society alcohol can be a healthy complement to good company and good food.

It can enhance social interaction.

But in a sick society like ours, where drinking very easily turns into binge drinking, beatings, child abuse and homicide, Government needs to intervene.

History has shown that when the poorer communities start to spend a major proportion of their income on alcohol, Government must have the political will to act.

I am in a position to say to the people of the Western Cape that this Government has the political will to heal the social fabric of our society, thereby increasing social cohesion.

We owe this to our children.

It is my hope that this Amendment Bill will make our women and children a little bit safer as early as this Christmas.

All stakeholders here today must continue to engage with the Western Cape Government to seek consensus and find solutions.

Thank you.

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