Growing concern of government interference in South African lifestyles


In South Africa, the inclination of the populace to accept government intervention in their daily lives has become increasingly apparent. While this propensity for compliance has historically been a prevalent citizen trait, the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic exposed a newfound willingness among most citizens to embrace government control in pursuit of the greater good. In many instances, this responsiveness is commendable, underscoring the acknowledgment of governmental authority.

After all, South Africa prides itself on being a fully operational democracy.

Nonetheless, a disconcerting trend is taking shape wherein the government seems to take for granted the public’s compliance, particularly when it perceives a convergence of viewpoints. This tendency is most conspicuous in matters related to alcohol consumption and smoking. South Africans often lean toward conservatism, readily endorsing governmental measures that impinge on personal liberties for the presumed betterment of society.

For instance, a substantial portion of South Africans concur that alcohol contributes to heightened societal degradation, including gender-based violence, road accidents, and homicides. Consequently, initiatives aimed at curbing alcohol consumption garner substantial support. Likewise, smoking is commonly viewed as an undesirable habit, leading many to endorse legislation targeting smokers in an effort to safeguard non-smokers.

Yet, it is disconcerting that South Africans seem to unquestioningly embrace various government regulations that impinge upon their individual choices without much resistance. Recent examples of this phenomenon include the Limpopo Liquor Act, colloquially referred to as the “midnight law,” which came into effect on August 1st, and the Tobacco Products & Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill, currently being deliberated by the parliamentary health portfolio committee.

The Limpopo Liquor Act restricts the sale of alcohol after midnight across all establishments, encompassing bars, taverns, shebeens, and nightclubs. According to Rodgers Monama, the province’s MEC for economic development, environment & tourism, this regulation is intended to curtail alcohol abuse and endorse responsible drinking practices, discouraging potentially unsafe nightlife beyond the midnight hour.

The hubris embedded in this statement from a public official is staggering. Essentially, the MEC has arrogated the authority to dictate how the people of Limpopo should socialize. His stance presumes that the citizens of Limpopo should consume alcohol moderately within their homes before midnight, with any activities outside these parameters being subject to legal regulation. The legality of establishments selling alcohol to individuals of legal drinking age seems inconsequential to his perspective.

The Tobacco Products & Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill aims to penalize adult smokers and vapers, along with the distributors of these products. This encompasses major tobacco corporations, small vaping enterprises, and even informal traders. The proposed legislation outlines penalties ranging from three months to 20 years of imprisonment for acts as minor as smoking in one’s private residence or vehicle in the presence of a non-smoker or non-vaper.

Remarkably, the legislation empowers neighbors to report each other to law enforcement for smoking on their own property if the smoke drifts across property boundaries. Judging by the self-congratulation of the health department and the anti-nicotine lobby, it appears that many South Africans relish the prospect of penalizing smokers and vapers.

Amidst the applause and jubilation over these authoritarian laws and regulations, numerous citizens have neglected to inquire into the underlying causes of excessive drinking and the rising prevalence of smoking in South Africa. While I lack the definitive answers, it is evident that the government glosses over these concerns, as the affected individuals’ rights seemingly hold little value in the eyes of many.

Nevertheless, every encroachment into personal life paves the way for subsequent encroachments. As the government realizes its capacity to legislate against undesirable behaviors and habits, it becomes increasingly emboldened to target other aspects that hold significance to the populace.

Today, it may be alcohol and tobacco. Tomorrow, it could encompass sugar, salt, cakes, potato chips, or numerous other items or behaviors that the public health authorities deem detrimental. Indeed, signs of this trajectory are already evident, with ill-conceived initiatives for food labeling and further sugar reduction in sugary beverages gaining traction. The question then arises: where does this cycle of government overreach conclude?

Many among us perceive these governmental policies as deliberate endeavors to alter behavior. However, this assumption is far from the truth. Given the state of law enforcement in South Africa, it is highly likely that the sale of alcohol will persist beyond midnight across Limpopo. The law’s primary impact will likely be forcing traders to innovate their methods of serving patrons outside legal hours, potentially creating a space for unlicensed entities to flourish, possibly leading to sales to minors. As demonstrated during the Covid-19 lockdowns, both nature and inventive South Africans abhor vacuums.

This scenario erodes public trust in the rule of law, as citizens witness the widening chasm between official prescriptions and real-world practices. This disconnect could foster a culture of non-compliance, wherein individuals routinely disregard laws, cognizant of the improbability of facing consequences.

Ultimately, this environment places an undue burden on law-abiding citizens, while those intent on flouting regulations continue to do so without repercussions. Similar to the Covid-19 situation, legal traders will comply with the new drinking laws, while illicit operations are poised to burgeon and meet the unmet demand after midnight.

In the context of tobacco control, the proposed measures appear out of touch with South Africa’s tobacco market reality and the factors driving the upward trajectory of smoking rates. Attempting to rectify a market saturated with illicit products through additional regulations on compliant industry entities and smokers is an inadequate solution.

Attributing the surge in smoking rates among the youth to vaping disregards the foreseeable outcomes of the influx of cheap tobacco via illegal channels. Any argument to the contrary demonstrates a bias towards pre-packaged solutions that disregard South Africa’s unique circumstances.

Let us not forget that dictatorships seldom announce their arrival and intentions with fanfare. Instead, they insidiously infiltrate through seemingly innocuous policies and regulations ostensibly designed to safeguard citizens from themselves, while surreptitiously granting excessive powers to the government.

South Africans would do well to maintain vigilance against heavy-handed regulations that infantilize citizens under the guise of lofty moralistic ideals concerning acceptable private conduct.


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