Release systemic chokes that trap us in inequality

Alcohol Harms Reduction Campaign

A strategy to reduce the harmful effects of heavy and binge drinking.

The disconnect

This explains why the project exists
Even though less than a third of South Africans consume alcohol, we are a nation of heavy drinkers. This is because more than half of those who drink are ‘binge drinkers’, defined as having more than five standard drinks in one sitting. The South African liquor industry contributes an estimated R68 billion annually to the fiscus – around 3% of the total GDP. But the harmful effects of heavy drinking cost the country much more in both direct and indirect costs. Research 1 A Review of the Taxation of Alcoholic Beverages in South Africa: Request for public comments | South African Government 2 Matzopoulos, R., Truen, S., Bowman, B. & Corrigall, J. 2014. The cost of harmful alcohol use in South Africa. South African Medical Journal, Vol. 104 (2): p127-132 conducted in 2014 illustrates a R277 billion yearly cost through the combined impact of health and welfare expenses and indirect costs, such as productivity losses from absenteeism. Adjusted for inflation, this equates to an annual cost of R433 billion to the South African economy in 2023. In other words, the industry contributes 3% to GDP yet the loss to GDP is 10–12%.

The majority of South Africans are stuck in an inequality trap with wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. Most are stuck in intergenerational loops of exclusion with few chances to escape. Breaking this cycle requires a fundamental change in life trajectories, starting in the womb.

Think of a Möbius strip – just one twist in the circle allows you to trace a completely different pattern. Instead of being stuck on the inside of a loop, you emerge on the outside. In the same way, escaping the inequality trap requires a fundamental twist to set South Africa on a new path.

The twist in thinking

This explains how the project approaches problems
DGMT initiated the Alcohol Harms Reduction Campaign to raise awareness about the harmful effects of heavy drinking on the South African society and economy. Our fight is not against all alcohol consumption; it is against industry and societal practices that promote excessive drinking. The campaign advocates for policy reforms based on the World Health Organisation’s five ‘best buys’, namely:
  • A ban on advertising of alcohol (except at the point of sale, where it should not be visible to those under 18 years).
  • Increase the price of alcohol, both through excise taxes and by introducing a minimum price per unit of pure alcohol in liquor products.
  • Reduce the legal limit for drinking and driving to a blood alcohol content of 0.02 grams per 100ml of blood or below.
  • Reduce the availability of alcohol by limiting the density of liquor outlets, implementing shorter trading hours, and ending the sale of alcohol in larger containers, like 1-litre bottles of beer.
  • Intensify the availability of counselling and medically assisted treatment for persons struggling with dependence.

The trajectory change

This explains what the project is doing to make a difference

The Alcohol Harms Reduction Campaign is focused on reducing the harmful impact of heavy and binge drinking through policy levers and psychosocial support mechanisms. The campaign partners with experts, civil society organisations and the government to bring about real and imminent change. This is done by:

  • Commissioning research: DGMT works with experts to ensure that our recommendations are evidence-based and demonstrate precisely what impact our proposed solutions will deliver.
  • Partnering with government:  DGMT aims to establish collaborative relationships across all provinces and engage closely with all public institutions that have a role to play in the field of alcohol-related policy and its implementation. We have Memorandums of Understanding with the Department of Social Development and the Western Cape Government. These partnerships are critical in ensuring impact and reach.
  • Grant-making: DGMT partners with civil society organisations that are already doing important work in this area through the grants we formulate. This is work we can either learn from and take to scale or test out new approaches to change behaviours related to alcohol.
  • Advocacy and lobbying: DGMT – together with the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Chronic Disease Initiative of the University of Cape Town and Public Health Association of South Africa – submitted a petition to the President, Speaker of Parliament, various ministers, as well as the Premiers and parliaments in all nine provinces during the height of the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 to combat the spread of the Coronavirus. The petition noted that binge drinking is a strong proximate risk factor for violence against women and children – alcohol being an acknowledged factor in more than 40% of rapes and a notable contributor to intimate partner

Trying to change life trajectories is ambitious and profound. It requires us to radically influence the lives of individuals and to be part of changing the circumstances in which they live.

Helpful Resources

On 20 August 2020 DGMT CEO, Dr David Harrison, presented to the Portfolio Committee on Gender-Based Violence in the Ministry of Women, Youth and Person with Disability around the five measures we propose to curb alcohol abuse and how that abuse is linked to gender-based violence.

On 24 August 2020 a webinar was convened by the Minister of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in direct response to the public appeal collated by DGMT and signed by over 160 researchers, academics and other interested parties, calling on government to implement five measure to address the binge drinking and alcohol abuse problem in South Africa.

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