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AB InBev’s South African subsidiary to challenge alcohol ban in court

South African Breweries (SAB) has said it will challenge the constitutionality of the government-imposed alcohol sales ban in court.

In a statement, the company said it shares the South African government’s concerns over the surge in Covid cases and welcomes all lawful measures in order to control the spread of the virus.

However SAB said it “strongly disagreed” with the imposition of a domestic alcohol sales ban, and after “much consideration”, it has decided to approach the courts.

“SAB has decided to approach the courts to challenge the constitutionality of the decision taken and process followed by the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to re-ban the sale of alcohol,” the brewer said. “The legal action is the last resort available to SAB to protect our employees, suppliers, customers, and all the livelihoods we support.”

“SAB believes any ban, including the current one, goes far beyond what is reasonable and necessary to contain the spread of the virus and unlawfully restricts various rights that are enshrined and protected by our constitution,” the brewer added. “These include the right to freedom of trade, the right to human dignity, privacy, and the right to bodily and psychological integrity.”

SAB wrote that the impact on the South African economy and the alcohol sector as a result of the ban was “disproportionate and unlawful”.

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It said the South African alcohol sector approached the government on 28 December, the day the ban was announced, with some alternatives to an outright prohibition. These included restrictions on trade channels, with a switch to off-trade only sales and limits on trading days and hours for off-premise outlets.

“SAB firmly believes that [these measures] coupled with an earlier curfew, would have been reasonable and effective in supporting the healthcare system and would help to mitigate the transmission of the virus while still preserving livelihoods and keeping the economy open,” SAB said.

SAB quotes figures which state that some 165,000 people working in the alcohol sector have lost their jobs as a direct result of the previous two alcohol bans, with 100,000 now living in poverty.

SAB also shares the concerns of industry body Vinpro and the South African Liquor Brandowners Association that restriction of legal trade fuels the growth of the illicit alcohol business.

The ban is set to remain in place until 15 January. SAB’s statement follows criticism of the “blanket approach” taken by the South African government by wine industry body Vinpro. 

Managing director Rico Basson estimates that the previous two sales bans, as well as a period during which exports were also prohibited, caused over R7.5 billion (£378 million) in lost wine sales, as well as “significant job losses” and the collapse of a number of wineries and tourism businesses.

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