During the Covid-19 pandemic, The South African government implemented lifesaving, temporary alcohol sales bans. Global alcohol giant AB Inbev challenged the policy in courts.
The South African government implemented lifesaving, temporary alcohol sales bans in three periods. The success of the policy is well documented in its direct and positive effect on reducing alcohol consumption and thus reducing alcohol-related trauma cases presented at hospitals in South Africa. This immediately freed up urgently needed hospital facilities, capacities, and services to care for people infected with COVID-19.
The global alcohol corporation AB InBev, through its subsidiary SAB Miller, took legal action against the live-saving temporary alcohol sales bans. First, they legally challenged the temporary alcohol sales bans during COVID-19 to try and overturn them. When that failed the beer giant filed a lawsuit claiming the bans were unlawful and had no force and effect.
When SAB Miller challenged the temporary alcohol sales ban implemented in June 2021 via urgent application, it was dismissed, first by the Western Cape High Court and later by the Supreme Court.
However, the alcohol giant did not drop the case and used its vast resources to continue its push against this life-saving alcohol policy during the pandemic in South Africa. The beer maker again filed an application at the Western Cape High Court against the temporary alcohol sales ban declaring that regulations 44 and 86 promulgated by the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on December 29, 2020, were unlawful and had no force and effect.
SAB went so far as to call the temporary alcohol sales bans unconstitutional because they “denied the fundamental constitutional rights to trade freely and human dignity.” SAB claims the temporary alcohol sales ban eroded livelihoods. The company argued that the executive’s use of its powers under the Disaster Management Act (DMA) to ban alcohol sales temporarily infringed on the rights of tavern owners, shopkeepers, brewers, and others in the alcohol trade value chain disproportionately.
SAB launched this lawsuit on January 6, 2021, and did not drop it even after the temporary alcohol sales bans were lifted in South Africa in early February 2021.
On May 20, 2022, The Court, in a two-to-one decision, dismissed SAB’s application against the temporary alcohol sales bans during COVID-19 in South Africa.