You are here: Home Countries South Africa

South Africa

About South Africa

South Africa has a population of 51.77 million people with a variety of cultures, languages and religious beliefs.

The country has nine provinces which vary in size. The smallest is Gauteng which is the most populous and highly urbanised and the largest the Northern Cape which is mainly arid and covers almost a third of the country’s land area. According to Census 2011, females make up just over half the population at 51.3% and males at 48.7%.

The economy of South Africa is the largest in Africa, and accounts for 24% of its GDP. It is ranked as an upper-middle income economy by the World Bank. The country is rich in natural resources and is a leading producer of platinum, gold, chromium and iron. From 2002 to 2008, South Africa grew at an average of 4.5 percent year-on-year, its fastest expansion since the establishment of democracy in 1994. According to official estimates, a quarter of the population is unemployed with a quarter of South Africans living on less than US $1.25 a day. The level of unemployment and inequality are considered by government to be the most salient economic challenges in the country.  The country's economy is reasonably diversified with key economic sectors including mining, agriculture and fisheries, vehicle manufacturing and assembly, food processing, clothing and textiles, telecommunication, energy, financial and business services, real estate, tourism, transportation, and wholesale and retail trade.

Alcohol in South Africa

South Africa is among the top five countries in the world that have the highest consumption of absolute alcohol per drinker per year, the second highest category of harmful patterns of drinking and the highest category for past year heavy episodic drinking.

130 people die daily from alcohol related causes. While alcohol producers benefit substantially from their customers engaging in binge drinking, this behaviour places an enormous burden on the country.

In 2010, the Minister of Health proposed a ban on alcohol advertising to begin to address these issues.

Alcohol Consumption and its effects in South Africa

Although just over 60% of South Africans do not consume alcohol, research shows that people who do consume alcohol, do so in an unhealthy manner, with high levels of binge drinking. This gives rise to increased levels of health and social problems including high levels of interpersonal violence.  53% of fatal (Harris & Van Kneejerk 2002) and up to 73% of non-fatal (Plüddemann et al. 2004) interpersonal violence injuries tested positive for alcohol in urban areas of South Africa in 2001.

In 2004 the NIMSS recorded six male deaths due to interpersonal violence for every female death (Matzapoulos 2005). While it is clear that males are at a greater risk of being killed or injured they are also more frequently the perpetrators of violence directed at men, women and children. Race, poverty and social status play a role in escalating cases of alcohol abuse.

South Africa also has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world.  12.2% or 6.4million people, with over 400 000 new infections in 2012.   (HSRC National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey 2012). The association between alcohol and risky sexual behaviour has been well documented as people are less likely to practise safe sexual behaviour when under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is more likely to affect judgement , sexual practise and your choice of partner at the time. Research conducted in a Pretoria township found a significant association between various measures of alcohol use (past month, frequency and problem use) and having multiple partners or sexual relations that were regretted in the past month.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is prevalent in the country particularly in the Western Cape. 42% of farm workers were found to have drunk during pregnancy. In research conducted in the Western Cape the prevalence of FAS was found to be 46 per 1000 in 1997 and 75 per 1000 in 1999.

South Africans say that alcohol is now a social norm and have normalised alcohol. It is seen as a way to fit in particularly among the youth. The following are comments made in a formative research exercise conducted by the Soul City Institute – Understanding the role of alcohol in communities:

"We want to have fun and to relieve stress. We work so hard and we get worried about our assignments if we did well or not so that is how we distress by drinking"
 -- (Gauteng Province, urban-female aged 21-28)

"You will rock the world when you are drunk, you will feel you own the world"
 -- (GP Informal M16-21)

"Some of us are shy, when I am drunk my benefit is I am no longer shy to approach a girl"
 -- (Limpopo Province, rural, male, aged 28-40)

Among Grade 8 – 10 learners in Cape Town a significant association was found between past month use of alcohol and the number of days absent from school and repeating a grade. The odds of repeating a grade in school were found to be 60% higher for learners who consumed alcohol. As youth constitute the largest section of the population young people are key target markets for alcohol producers looking to recruit a new generation of loyal customers.

Soul City Institute for Health Development Communication

Soul City is a South African non-profit organisation that has been instrumental in placing the issue of alcohol abuse on the national agenda.

In 2007 the institute conducted a literature review that showed males are affected more than females; Young adults are the most common victims of fatal violence; the most common days for homicide are Saturdays followed by Sundays and more than half of the victims of fatal violence tested positive for alcohol.

In 2010, following extensive consultations with related organisations, the institute launched the Phuza Wize - Drink Safe Live Safe campaign, which aims to reduce violence by reducing access to alcohol and help communities become safer social spaces. The Soul City model for behaviour changes focuses on the individual, the community as well the socio economic and political environment to foster change. To achieve this, the institute utilises mass media, social mobilisation and advocacy.

Based on the WHO scientifically proven methods to reduce violence the campaign focused on Increasing safe, stable, and nurturing relationships between children and their parents and caregivers; Reducing the availability and misuse of alcohol; Improving life skills and enhancing opportunities for children and youth; Promoting  gender equality and empowering women and changing cultural norms that support violence.

Soul City Television Series

Soul City uses edutainment as a way to communicate with a diverse audience and has successfully utilised mass media to reach audiences in South Africa.

The award winning Soul City television series is a highly acclaimed social drama that highlights social challenges and possible solutions through entertaining scripts Attracting large audiences s the series is designed to educate, inform and entertain. Series 10 focused on the link between alcohol consumption and violence. Utilising stories that audiences can relate to, this particular series reached over 5 million adult South Africans in 2010.

Consultations and Partnerships


Discussions were held with government departments, provincial offices, community leaders, liquor traders, educational institutions, youth groups as well as liquor authorities in all nine provinces. The national policy was outdated and most provinces had existing alcohol policies which had not been reviewed for decades. The mushrooming of unlicensed liquor outlets and easy access to alcohol at all hours particularly in residential areas, were just some of the challenges raised by the campaign.


In an attempt to change the social norm around alcohol consumption and advocate for safer communities, Soul City partnered with other local organisations and government. The aim of this partnership was to have a broad civil society engagement and activism which focused on reducing alcohol related violence. This partnership would support the objectives of the Phuza Wize Campaign which were:

  • to create an enabling environment that facilitates increased community activism in creating safe, stable and non-violent drinking environments;
  • change knowledge, attitudes and norms around drinking alcohol in South Africa and
  • to increase community knowledge on the harmful effects of alcohol and its impact on interpersonal violence.


The campaign and its partners held training sessions in communities selected on a number of criteria including that they had been identified as areas which had high rates of violence, were very poor and had a proliferation of alcohol outlets.

Community members were trained on how to map their  communities to identify violence and alcohol hotspots as well as how to engage with liquor traders and collaborate to form safer communities. They were also trained on how to lobby their local municipalities and become advocates for reducing accessibility of alcohol in their respective communities.


The campaign was launched together with the television series and garnered extensive media coverage on radio, television and print media.

The bold messaging fuelled public debate supporting the television series.


The debate raged on through print media articles and columns with opposing views. In addition the campaign continued the partnership with the Mail & Guardian with print supplements highlighting different themes including:

  • Alcohol Advertising
  • The Alcohol Levy
  • The Direct Cost of alcohol to the country and its economy
  • The Health Promotion Foundation
  • The need for a comprehensive alcohol policy

Critical Thinking Forums

A number of discussions were held in partnership with a leading South African publication, the Mail & Guardian.

These discussions invited media, editors, government representatives, stakeholder in the campaign stakeholders in the alcohol industry to debate topics pertaining to the alcohol industry particularly alcohol advertising. These debates were robust with opposing views however they kept media thought leaders informed on developments and opened up the debate around alcohol related challenges in the country.


To further strengthen the message from the Soul City series 10 which focused on alcohol and violence, Soul City produced television advertisements which flighted on the national broadcaster SABC 1 at the beginning and the end of each weekly episode.

Themed ‘Don’t let the good times turn bad’ and’ There’s more to life’, these popular 30 second productions sent a safer drinking message targeting a younger audience.  The 2 adverts were also utilised extensively during the 2010 World Cup at official fan park sites around the country, youth spring break activities and community events.


Interviews and alcohol related discussions were packaged for commercial and community radio stations across South Africa. These looked at the issues raised in the television series and encouraged communities to discuss issues specific to their areas. A partnership with the Government at a later stage created festive season specific messages across key commercial radio stations in all 11 official languages.


Research was conducted by the institute and its partners on various alcohol related issues.

In 2007, a literature review was conducted by the Medical Research Council (MRC) on behalf of Soul City. The review, Alcohol Use Literature Review, looked at levels and patterns of alcohol consumption in the country as well as global best practise on how to reduce levels of abuse. In 2009 a review on the legislation around alcohol consumption and regulation, Legal Literature Review, looked at how best to regulate and reduce alcohol consumption. Also in 2009 the Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE), conducted research on behalf of Soul City that looked at National and Provincial Government Spending and Revenue Related to Alcohol Abuse. In 2011 Soul City commissioned research on Marketing and Alcohol Consumption in South Africa.  The institute also commissioned the Wits University Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) to review Alcohol in schools and the tertiary sector.

Alcohol Advertising

A comprehensive review of policies and programmes indicates that making alcohol less available and more expensive and a ban on alcohol advertising are the most cost-effective ways to reduce harm caused by alcohol.

This position is reflected by the WHO Global Strategy to reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol and the Global Status Report on Noncommunicable Diseases. Research on the direct costs of alcohol related harm by the CASE found that the state spends R17.1 billion on social and health costs as a result of alcohol related harm. The income from alcohol tax is lower at R16billion per annum.

Substance Abuse Summit

Following the second Biannual Anti-Substance Abuse Summit in 2011, the government convened an Interministerial Committee l on Alcohol (IMC), spearheaded by the Department of Health and the Department of Social Development.

Among the key resolutions was:

  • the immediate implementation of current laws and regulations that permit the restriction of the time, location and content of advertising related to alcohol
  • and banning of all advertising of alcoholic products in both public and private media including electronic media;
  • restrictions on the accessibility of alcohol;
  • harmonisation of laws and policies regarding the sale of alcohol; reducing the number of liquor outlets;
  • raising the legal age for purchasing and public consumption of alcohol;
  • raising taxes on alcohol products and
  • reducing the current legal alcohol limit for drivers.
  • In addition is the proposed ban of all sponsorship by the alcohol industry for sports, recreation, arts and cultural related events.
  • Norms and standards would be drafted by the National Liquor Authority (NLA) to harmonise alcohol legislative framework in the country

South African Policy on Alcohol

Although governed by the National Liquor Authority, each of South Africa’s nine provinces draft their own policies.

At the time Soul City and its partners launched the campaign, provincial liquor policies were out of date and needed updating to suit the current environment. Lobbying of National government included lobbying provinces separately to update policies and strengthen implementation of these.

Draft Liquor Policy 2012

Following extensive lobbying by Soul City and its partners , a bill for the Control of Marketing of Alcoholic Beverages was drafted in 2012.

The government consulted extensively with stakeholders including liquor traders, communities and the general public with public hearings held in provinces across the country. That same year the bill was leaked to the public resulting in a media frenzy spearheaded by the alcohol industry. Amid accusations of being a nanny state and exaggerated reports of job losses in the industry, the Department of Health convened a media briefing to address concerns around the bill. The bill was approved by the IMC in August 2013 and presented to cabinet in September where it awaits final approval. The Treasury department is currently looking at alternative ways to fund the arts and sport in South Africa.

Norms and Standards of the Liquor Act

In 2013, the South African National Liquor Authority, a body under the Department of Trade and Industry, presented a draft of Norms and Standards of the Liquor Act of 2003. These norms and standards address the issues within the current legislative framework such as standards necessary for the location of licensed premises, age verification, licensing conditions, structural requirements and norms relating to trading hours.

The drafting of these norms and standards raise policy issues that are to be debated such as:

Raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 21; Prohibiting sale of liquor to visible pregnant women; Prohibiting the issuing of licenses to schools, Convenience stores next to Petrol / Filling stations; Extending liability to persons who sell liquor to visibly drunk persons

These policy issues form part of the Draft Liquor policy 2012 and will continue to be debated.

The purpose of the norms and standards are to:

  • To ensure that liquor legislation and practises in the South Africa are harmonised
  • To facilitate effective enforcement of liquor laws by various enforcement authorities
  • To ensure consistency in the application of liquor laws throughout the country and
  • To reduce the socio-economic and other costs of alcohol abuse by reducing access to and the availability of liquor

Read it here...


Soul City and its partners continue to advocate for improved legislation for a healthier, safer South Africa.
  • SAAPA Forum in Lesotho – May 2014 [Link to news & events section]

Health Promotion Foundation

The institute is calling for an additional levy to be imposed on alcohol products which would fund a Health Promotion Foundation.

The foundation would support strategic thinking and support for a National Alcohol Strategy and new initiatives. It would provide clear messaging and guidance on health issues to Government, Organisations, Corporates and the public at large.