Features

HERO @ ZERO

THE FESTIVE SEASON BRINGS WITH IT SOUTH AFRICA’S ANNUAL SHAMEFUL DAILY STATISTIC: THE ANNUAL ROAD DEATH TOLL. MANY OF THE DEATHS ARE ATTRIBUTED TO DRIVING UNDER
THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL. FIONA MCDONALD REVIEWS RECENT DEVELOPMENTS ON THIS FRONT.

 

Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula stated in August that South Africa should have a drink driving limit of zero by December. Due to the nature of magazine publishing and deadlines, it would take a crystal ball to know whether this has indeed become reality.

Nonetheless, there is widespread support for this move – and very good reasons to reduce the current blood alcohol level from 0.05mg/l to absolute zero. As Business Insider reported at the
time, cabinet approved the National Road Traffic Amendment Bill in March and the draft law was
released in June.

“It effectively seeks to ban anyone who has had a drink from operating a motor vehicle, until no
alcohol can be detected in their blood or on their breath,” the report stated.

“The Bill does not alter the methods of testing, penalties, or any other part of current legislation that deals with drink-driving. It simply scratches out the sections of the current law that specifies the permitted level of alcohol for drivers. That is less than 0.05 grams per 100 millilitres, or for professional drivers less than 0.02 grams per 100 millilitres, when measured via blood sample.”

The Automobile Association released a statement the following day in response, stating that changing the traffic laws to clamp down on drink driving was “meaningless and ineffective”. It rightly pointed out that without enforcement the regulations are pointless. It also noted that
the current analyses of drunk driving in South Africa “are fragmented and disparate, with no
conclusive findings besides those which call for greater research on the matter”. Definitive
research was a move the AA would support, the statement read.

“But we cannot have a situation where the government is guessing to what extent alcohol is a contributor of road deaths with no actual plan to deal with the road safety crisis in South Africa
as a whole, other than to amend the law. This approach amounts to dealing with the issue of
drunk driving without first addressing the issue of current enforcement and lack of education,” says the Association.

“It is our view that people who drink and drive will not alter their behaviour because there are no consequences so they’re willing to take that gamble of being caught. Ensuring proper law enforcement should be the first step before amending laws. If law enforcement doesn’t change
how it operates now, how will changing the law make a difference?” asked the AA.

The organisation pointed out that practical, workable plans “to improve traffic law enforcements which were compiled by experts and traffic officers themselves” were on the table. “Yet there are those who seem intent on focusing on one aspect of road safety – drunk driving – as a panacea for road fatalities. It is, in effect, putting a band aid on a gaping wound with the hope that it will stop the flow of blood. It won’t,” was the AA’s blunt assessment.

Various corporates within the liquor industry are doing their bit to highlight awareness by means of campaigns and support for Aware.org.

SAB, a company which had to destroy hundreds of thousands of litres of beer due to health and safety reasons, has been one of the most prominent and proactive. Partnering with the Gauteng government, its ongoing #RESPONSIBLETOGETHER campaign, is aimed at creating awareness and education on the impact of the irresponsible use of alcohol and the effects of harmful
behaviour.

Senior Corporate Affairs manager at SAB, Kgosi Mogotsi: “Our experience through the national pandemic has taught us the importance of communicating with our communities more effectively, in a way and style which they appreciate and understand.” Vivid murals in prominent locations in Gauteng stressing the message of responsibility was chosen as one way to get the message across.

The harmful use of alcohol is a serious and pervasive issue, and combating it requires a multistakeholder response, said Raymond Martin, Chief Director: Gauteng Liquor Board.

“There is a need for a collective and organised reaction from all relevant actors across government, civil society, and private sector. Regarding this latest campaign with SAB, the chosen locations for the murals are places where this message will have the highest social impact as well as where responsible behaviour is of the highest importance. We are pleased to have played a role in the #RESPONSIBLETOGETHER campaign.”

“Alcoholic beverages like beer are very much a part of South African culture,” SAB’s Mogotsi said. “It has been that way for cultures around the world for centuries and we believe that every experience with beer should be a positive one.”

Mogotsi further pointed out that the beer or brewing industry was an important part of the country’s economy, supporting more than 1.1 million livelihoods. “However, as members of the alcohol industry, we believe that we have a long way to go in improving alcohol consumption patterns and behaviours across the country. We therefore believe that promoting a healthy industry that is characterised by responsible behaviour is incredibly important.”

Additionally, with the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) and the Craft Brewers Association, SAB said as a company it was committed to curbing and reducing the harmful use of alcohol. It subscribed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) target of a 10% reduction in harmful alcohol use by 2025.

“As a company, we share these goals—we believe that the harmful use of alcohol is not good for our consumers, colleagues, families and communities, as well as for our business,” an SAB statement read. “We are building a company to last beyond our 125 years invested in South Africa. So we can continue to brew beers and build brands that bring people together for a better world. This relies on thriving communities, who fully participate in the economic recovery of our country.”

As SAB stated in a recent media release: “We believe when you drive you should never drink and we fully support the implementation of 0% breath alcohol content limit, coupled with strong law enforcement, as already proposed by the Department of Transport.

“We continue to invest and collaborate in our partnership with the Department of Transport and the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) to run the Alcohol Evidence Centres (AECs), which have proven to successfully assist in improving the number of drink-driving convictions for abuse, and reducing incidents of this nature.”

Those are noble ideals, but as the AA pointed out, without enforcement laws are meaningless. And without community or individual buy-in, noble ideals will not see target goals achieved. There are more no- and lowalcohol options available than ever before. It’s a segment of the alcohol industry which is showing rapid growth indicating that people are choosing to do the right thing.

Hard lockdown in March during the global pandemic forced many South Africans across the board to re-examine their relationship with alcohol. Many folks who thought they had a handle on the amount of alcohol they consumed had to reconsider once their supply was consumed.

As with so many challenges that South Africans face on a daily basis, it appears that taking ownership and personal responsibility is the solution. Looking to local or national government to fix things is – realistically – not an option. As the quote states: The buck stops here. Take control of your own actions.

If you drive, don’t drink. It’s the responsible thing to do – for the sake of your family, your community and all South Africans.