The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (SAAPA SA) is concerned about the recent announcement in South Africa that a supermarket chain outlet attached to a petrol station in Johannesburg has been awarded a liquor licence. SAAPA SA calls on all Provincial Liquor Authorities to implement an immediate moratorium on the awarding of all such licenses.
SAAPA SA believe the decision to allow petrol stations to have a liquor licence raises a number of important questions, the most worrying of which is the slow pace of legislative change in the country.
It also highlights the constraints on promoting a national alcohol policy for South Africa. These constraints are a consequence of the constitutional separation of responsibilities for different aspects of alcohol regulation. Furthermore, there are worrying consequences of allowing global petrol giants to enter this market, especially in conjunction with supermarket chains that are already making huge profits from selling alcohol, threatening the future of small, independent liquor retailers, increasing the availability of alcohol, and causing job losses.
South Africa’s newly-adopted Liquor Policy of 2016 recommends strongly that premises attached to petrol stations should not be awarded liquor licences. The long-awaited Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016, which is based on the 2016 Policy, specifically outlaws the granting of licences to such premises. So the failure to fast-track what was deemed by national government to be important and urgent amendments to the law has created the space for provinces to decide for themselves whether to award such licences.
If provinces continue to give petrol stations licences, it will put pressure on the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) to remove the prohibition from the Bill or, if it keeps the prohibition in the final legislation, it will have to allow a special dispensation for those petrol station premises that have already been granted a licence. A way around this would be for the DTIC right now to encourage provincial liquor boards to hold off on awarding such licences until the Bill has been processed, prevention being better (and easier) than cure.
Petrol companies are increasingly entering into deals with supermarket chains to run their forecourt shops. These chains, which historically were only allowed to hold Grocer’s Licences to sell wine inside their shops, now have approval via the 2003 national Liquor Act to open stand-alone outlets selling all types of alcohol. According to the 2020 Who Owns Whom report on the liquor industry, there are over 2 000 liquor outlets associated with the large supermarket chains (Woolworths is the latest to join the club, with one fully-fledged bottle store and more to come). In the 2017 Who Owns Whom report, it is said that the entry of the large chains into this market has already resulted in the closure of 70% of small retailers and the loss of 60 000 jobs.
Allowing large retailers and global petrol giants to dominate the retail alcohol market poses a threat to the achievement of the three ‘best buys’ of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol (2010) – namely, to reduce alcohol availability, to increase the cost of alcohol, and to limit or ban alcohol advertising.
It makes alcohol more easily available – adding petrol stations into the mix means a potential 5 000 new sites where wine can be bought – and already people associate buying alcohol with grocery shopping because of the presence of supermarket liquor outlets. International evidence shows that increased availability is associated with increased harm.
It contributes to a decrease in the cost of alcohol – the retail chains and global petrol giants are able to negotiate better wholesale prices than the small, independent bottle stores and they pass on their savings to their customers in order to attract more business.
And it increases the amount of alcohol advertising. Most small, independent bottle stores or chains cannot afford to pay the high costs associated with advertising, television advertising in particular. However, the supermarket chains and petrol companies can and will, contributing to the range of alcohol advertising that helps to normalise and glamourise the consumption of alcohol.
There are additional potential problems. Most petrol stations stay open 24 hours a day. Although it is unlikely that they will get liquor licences allowing them to sell wine 24 hours a day, being open all the time and having wine on the premises means that the chances of some of them selling the wine ‘under the counter’ outside of legal selling hours is very high.
Furthermore, there is a real risk that allowing petrol stations to sell alcohol is going to lead to an increase in drink driving and undermine the efforts of the Department of Transport to reduce alcohol-related traffic incidents through the Road Traffic Amendment Bill, which is currently being considered by Parliament.
SAAPA SA, its 23 Alliance Partners from a range of sectors in civil society and its research partners, call on government to address this issue urgently. The DTIC must step in and engage with provincial departments responsible for liquor licensing. We cannot have a situation in which it is impossible for national government to ensure that the health, safety and well-being of the population are threatened by alcohol-related harm.
The DTIC must also fast-track the processing of the Liquor Amendment Bill. We call on all those in Cabinet – the President, the Minister of Social Development, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Health – who have called for better alcohol legislation, to engage with their colleague, the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, to get the Bill passed. SAAPA SA believes that legislation to reduce alcohol-related harm in South Africa is not the concern or responsibility of just one department, but of the whole of Cabinet who are supposed to act collectively in the best interests of the people of the country.
South Africans against Drunk Driving (SADD), a SAAPA SA Alliance Partner, have launched a petition calling on the public to support the call for a ban on petrol station liquor licences. The link to the petition is https://tinyurl.com/tfvxhwax.
For further information please contact SAAPA SA Communication Head Terri-Liza Fortein
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Cell: 0799765489