Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

ARE you old enough to remember apartheid liquor policy? How it affected black South Africans? Drunk cyclists and pedestrians everywhere? Blacks forced to buy from whites? Restricted trading hours forcing people to drink faster? Endemic black alcohol abuse?

Because the Department of Trade and Industry remembers it, it is scrapping the last vestiges of that ghastly legacy. Its National Liquor Policy opines that liquor has been characterised by "disparities informed by historical legacies (that) created a large informal liquor segment whereby many unlicensed liquor outlets operated and continue to operate", and that apartheid liquor policy caused "countless raids, harassment, arrests, prosecutions and imprisonment of African people (and) led to social breakdown, family violence, alcohol-related diseases, crime and accidents in poor communities". A large illegal liquor trade "mushroomed".

The department has announced the decriminalisation of shebeens and the repeal of draconian licensing. It will fight alcohol-related crime and undertake public education instead. This long-overdue reform has been welcomed by progressive South Africans.

Unfortunately, this is a hoax. The department is doing the opposite. After lamenting apartheid liquor policy, the new policy proposes its reintroduction. As explicit racism is unconstitutional, sanitised surrogates are concocted. A nonracial veneer conceals such ingenious stratagems as requiring liquor outlets to be in "zoned areas". They know black areas were dormitory towns without zoning, and the proposal amounts to apartheid in drag. In the absence of zoning, a lucky or corrupt few will be given apartheid-style "consent use".

The department also concocted a list of places from which liquor outlets must be at least 500m. Resurrecting apartheid’s "radius law" means only people in middle-and high-income areas will be in easy reach of liquor outlets. The list includes "schools, places of worship, recreation facilities, rehabilitation or treatment centres, residential areas and public institutions … petrol stations … public transport (and) areas not classified for entertainment or zoned (for) liquor". Existing outlets must close within two years. Lawful outlets will become unlawful when anything on the list arises in the prohibition radius.

Forcing people to buy liquor far from public transport will, as before, force them to walk, cycle or drive after drinking. Alcohol-related accidents, rape and mugging will increase. People will drink more at home in the presence of children.

Additional proposals include raising the drinking age to 21, denying people considered mature enough to vote, marry, choose careers and beliefs, drive cars and commit suicide, a drink with friends or a meal. Suppliers will be guilty if tipsy customers commit crimes. Trained professionals cannot tell whether people are intoxicated without elaborate tests, yet unsophisticated canteen owners are expected to insult adults by telling them they are drunk and demanding proof of age. Even the apartheid regime did not think of anything as absurd as blaming supermarkets for selling knives to people who stab victims.

Curtailing advertising, combined with fewer outlets, will eliminate competition, especially from emerging businesses in entertainment, catering, manufacturing and retailing. Information about brands, product availability and prices will be banned. The department has no evidence such measures will reduce abuse. On the contrary, its own analysis explains why they will be counterproductive. They violate our right to dignity and nonracialism.

"Man, proud man, Dress’d in a little brief authority," wrote William Shakespeare, "Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d … like an angry ape, Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven, As makes the angels weep."

• Louw is executive director of the Free Market Foundation.