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The Department of Trade and Industry has proposed to amend the National Liquor Act by increasing the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) to 21. Currently, the legal drinking age in South Africa is 18.
Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, gave reasons for this decision in a press briefing at Parliament in October 2016: “The first [reason] is that it is a physiological argument, which is saying there is evidence that the brain does not fully develop until the mid-twenties in fact, and that when the brain is not yet fully developed, the impact on the brain of alcohol abuse is much more severe than it is on the fully developed brain…”. Davies said that the consequences of alcohol abuse have decreased in countries where the drinking age was increased. Davies also said that South Africa has one of the highest incidences of FAS (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) in the world with approximately 1 million people being affected, and that another 5 million people have sustained damage due to excessive alcohol consumption.
Chris Hattingh from the Free Market Foundation, an independent policy organisation, said, “...evidence does not support the contention that the higher the drinking age, the less crime there is. In fact, raising the drinking age will channel young adults into hidden places where they drink less responsibly. We at the Free Market Foundation hold that the imposition of unjust laws will only result in unjust effects. We are thus doing everything we can to make students aware of the proposed change to the law, and are thus reaching out to as many student organisations as possible at every university”. Hattingh also sent an email to the President, Michael Masutha (Minister of Justice), Rob Davies and Aaron Motsoaledi (Minister of Health) in an attempt to convince the government not to change the Act.
If the bill passes, South Africa will join a handful of other countries where the minimum drinking age is 21, such as the United States and Sri Lanka. Countries with the same current MLDA as SA include Australia, Namibia and the United Kingdom. Anyone who wishes to comment on the new bill can do so until 28 February.
Photo: Kaylyn O’Brien