President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that alcohol and cigarette sales will be allowed from Monday.
Ramaphosa also announced that the sale of alcohol in restaurants, bars, and shebeens will be allowed under level 2.
These announcements from Ramaphosa came as he addressed the nation on developments in South Africa’s risk-adjusted strategy to manage the spread of COVID-19.
The President’s address followed a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council and meetings of the President’s Co-ordinating Council and Cabinet.
He announced that the country will move to COVID-19 alert level 2 on Monday 16 August, which will see the relaxation of many COVID-19 lockdown rules.
South Africa is currently at alert level 3, with the sale of tobacco products and alcohol banned across the country.
There has been widespread resistance to these bans by businesses, farmers, and ordinary South Africans.
The bans have resulted in numerous protests and court cases against the government, but to date, these have not reaped results.
Ramaphosa’s announcement that cigarette and tobacco sales will be allowed under level 2 is therefore good news for many South Africans.
Alcohol ban in South Africa
South Africa’s alcohol ban was first imposed when the country entered a strict lockdown on 27 March 2020.
The ban outlawed the sale, production, and distribution of alcohol across South Africa during level 5 and level 4 of the lockdown.
The ban was lifted on 1 June when the country moved to alert level 3, allowing people to buy alcohol between 09:00 and 17:00 from Monday to Thursday.
Ramaphosa reintroduced the ban with immediate effect on 12 July because of the large number of alcohol-related cases that have inundated hospitals since the ban was lifted.
The ban may have had a positive effect on hospital bed availability, but its effect on the economy has been devastating.
The first nine-week ban on liquor sales reportedly cost South Africa 117,000 jobs and billions in lost tax revenue.
SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter recently said the ban on alcohol directly contributed to a R7-billion loss in taxes.
This number is far higher when factoring in downstream taxes from companies and employment.
The ban also affected investments. SAB and Heineken said this month they are halting investment and expansion into South Africa because of the restrictions on alcohol.
The lifting of the alcohol ban will be welcomed by thousands of businesses which have been fighting against it for months.
Just like the alcohol ban, the restrictions on the sale of tobacco products was also introduced when the country entered a strict lockdown on 27 March 2020.
Unlike the alcohol ban, the cigarette ban remained in place during level 5, level 4, and level 3 of the lockdown.
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has defended this ban despite widespread criticism of the decision.
She argued the ban is aimed at protecting human life and reducing pressure on the public health system.
The government further argued that smoking could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases and even death.
Numerous organisations challenged her decision in court, arguing the cigarette ban was not necessary to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research by the University of Cape Town also showed that cigarettes are easily available under the lockdown despite the ban.
It found that 93% of South African smokers have continued to smoke despite the ban on the sale of tobacco products.
These black-market cigarettes are, however, far more expensive than usual prices, which leads to more people sharing cigarettes.
The research suggests that the ban on tobacco is, therefore, achieving the opposite of what it intends.
Another negative effect is the impact on tax revenue. Kieswetter said the ban on tobacco products has already cost the country R3 billion in tax revenue.
Lifting the cigarette ban is a logical move by the government and will be welcomed by the tobacco industry, smokers, and SARS.