The Programme Director, Honorable Premier Pumulo Mosualle, the Zone President SAB AB-InBev Africa, Ricardo Tadeu and entire management and staff, all stakeholders that are in attendance in this very important occasion, Esteemed Guests. It gives me great delight to address you today on behalf of the Eastern Cape Liquor Board. Perhaps let me start by conveying our deepest word of gratitude to SAB AB-InBev for affording us the opportunity to address this auspicious session; we do not take this gesture lightly. And I must say that we are fully aware that this honor is the product of our long-time relationship in this Province.
Eastern Cape Liquor Board is an entity that has been given an exclusive mandate to regulate liquor industry in the Province. We take this responsibility quite seriously and work hard to ensure that we fulfil our mandate of promoting a responsible liquor industry through a rigorous process of issuing liquor licenses. Currently we have a total of 6967 active licenses in the province that comprise of different types, such as on-off consumption, on-consumption, off-consumption, and micro-manufacturing. As we issue licenses we are also seized with the responsibility of enforcing compliance with trading conditions; which is a daunting task. I say this because this is an area in our regulatory work that remains very challenging. For example, we have to deal with some of the liquor outlets that wittingly or unwittingly do not observe prescribed trading conditions, thus causing problems to the community.
We have also seen the proliferation of unlicensed liquor outlets throughout our Province, which is a concern to us because if they are not licensed it simply means that they sell alcohol without any conditions, which puts our communities at a huge risk. They also represent an unfair competition to our licensed liquor outlets and loss of state revenue. We are however working tirelessly with our stakeholders to try to nip this problem in the bud.
The Eastern Cape Liquor Act enjoins us to mitigate against the harmful effects of alcohol abuse in our communities. Statistics show that we are a heavy drinking country and this invariably has an enormous socio-economic impact on our people. A recent WHO Report shows that more than 3 million people died as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016 worldwide. It is therefore imperative that necessary steps are embarked upon to fight the scourge of alcohol abuse in all fronts of our society.
Our recent research report shows that we are the fourth biggest spender on alcohol to the tune of about R8 billion per year. What we have also established through a study on the socio-economic impact of alcohol abuse is that the majority of people who consume alcohol in the Eastern Cape mentioned boredom as one of the reasons why they consume alcohol excessively; especially young people. Effectively, it means our people do not have social or economic activities which would essentially keep them busy, and under such circumstances alcohol becomes a refuge.
Programme Director, having alluded to our mandate as an entity, it is important to use this opportunity to accentuate the fact that over the years we have established and sustained strong relationship with SAB AB-InBev in the Eastern Cape. Our relationship has been instrumental in demystifying some of the challenges we confront as the liquor authority. We have henceforth collaborated on myriad community programmes that seek to empower our people in many ways. For example, as part of partnership, in 2014 SAB funded a three-year FAS research study in the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan area to the tune of R5 million. It was after a sensational report on one of the Port Elizabeth based newspapers – which reported that majority of women in the Metro intentionally consumed alcohol in order to harm their unborn babies so they could access social grants – that we approached SAB to assist us in investigating such allegations.
I am glad to report that the study found no relationship between alcohol consumption during pregnancy and intentions to access social grants. I must also mention that this was the first FAS research study ever conducted in our Province. Despite the fact FAS is a huge burden on our government and society, it concerned us that no data existed on its prevalence in the Eastern Cape. Although the study was conducted in Port Elizabeth, it gave us an idea of the extent of the problem in the Eastern Cape. For example, the research results showed that out of 1000 learners that participated in the study, 130 had an FAS condition. Quite clearly there is still so much to do in this area considering the damage FAS causes to unborn babies.
We have also worked with SAB on different community empowerment programmes, especially those that target young people. For example, we have supported projects for young people in the Chris Hani District Municipality, Buffalo City and OR Tambo. We have also supported women cooperatives in Port St Johns, Lusikisiki and Libode. Let me perhaps mention that in Libode we have supported people living with disabilities since 2015. We have supported them with garden implements, seeds, sewing machines and right now SAB has sponsored them with building material for a structure to breed chickens. It is also inspiring to report that this cooperative is employing other disabled people from around Nyandeni Local Municipality. Currently, we are working with SAB AB-InBev on a recycling plant that will incorporate the Eastern Cape Liquor Traders Association to work towards not only clean outlets and communities but also to build communities that work towards a better world.
Again, towards the end of 2017 together with SAB AB-InBev we have identified a women Agricultural Cooperative in Lusikisiki and sponsored them with an amount of R100 000 towards their project, and in order to sustain the project the same amount has been donated in this year.
Programme Director, unemployment and poverty ravage our society and often these two social ills are blamed for the escalating cases of alcohol abuse in the Eastern Cape. Working with SAB AB-InBev we have realized that in seeking to alleviate the scourge of alcohol abuse we need to provide an alternative solution to our people, particularly young people.
As the Board, we have identified sport as one of the social activities that is effective in keeping our young people away from the temptation of alcohol consumption. This is an area that we would like to strengthen with SAB AB-InBev as we seek to deal with the deep-seated social problems of our society. We have seen that our young, especially those out of school, appreciate sport so there is an urgent need to develop sporting infrastructure in our communities so that young people can have something to keep them busy. In our recent provincial launch of Aware!org and Eastern Cape partnership, our MEC, Honorable Oscar Mabuyana made a special request to the liquor industry to support the establishment of a sport academy in the Eastern Cape in order to promote professional sport, and fortunately SAB AB InBev was represented at the session hopefully they conveyed the message to the powers that be.
Our second area of support which has a huge potential to take our people out of doldrums of alcohol abuse is agriculture. Unlike other provinces, we do not produce minerals, our biggest economic driver is agriculture and this is an area we would want to engage SAB AB-InBev. We would like to see EC becoming supplier of your raw materials so that we do not remain consumers of your product but also be part of the value chain. We will be prepared as the Liquor Authority to take responsibility to ensure that all the processes are followed in ensuring that this noble objective is realised. We are also lucky to have the University of Fort Hare that is among the leading research institutions in agricultural. We believe we could use the Institution for any feasibility study that may be necessary. President, I would urge you to put this particular issue on your agenda because it is also something that is very close to our hearts as the Liquor Authority.
In conclusion Programme Director, let me state that we are not oblivious to the contribution that the liquor industry makes to the economy. The number of jobs that they have created and the contribution to the GDP are some of the critical contributions they make in the economy. However, as the liquor authority we have a responsibility to ensure that the economic dimension of the industry does not overlook the social effects of alcohol on our society. There has to be a concerted effort to maintain a balance between these dichotomies. I must also say that as we crisscross the Province we have picked up that liquor industry is blamed for all the social ills that bedevil our society, or one may say that there is extreme negative perception about the industry. However, with interventions such as the ones that I have outlined above, communities are better capacitated to understand and appreciate the fact that liquor industry is not about pushing volumes only, but they take responsibility for issues that affect society. I must also acknowledge the vigilance of your officials who work with the Eastern Cape, both from the Cape Town and KZN offices. We appreciate their diligence and willingness to work with us all the time. They have been at the center of strengthening relations between the industry and the Board, and for that we say thank you to them.
However, I must say that there is still so much to do as we endeavor to make a dent particularly on the scourge of alcohol abuse in our Province. It is therefore important that we nurture our relationship for the good of our people.
I thank you!