The Hon. Mayor of Ndlambe Local Municipality; The Municipal Manager; Councillors Present; National, Provincial & Local Government representatives, Council of Churches, Members of the media; Community-based organisations Community members; Ladies and gentlemen Today is an important day for the Eastern Cape Liquor Board (ECLB) on which we seek to fulfil one of our crucial legislative mandates of mitigating against the harmful effects of alcohol abuse on our people. While alcohol enormously contributes to the economy of our country, the reality is that its irresponsible consumption ravages our communities and the nation.
We continuously hear of many accounts in the Eastern Cape Province where young people are increasingly falling prey to alcohol and substance abuse. It goes without saying that it is a contributory factor to poverty, crime, reduced productivity, dysfunctional family life, escalation of chronic diseases and therefore it needs to be dealt with holistically. ECLB is making an effort to take the lead in fighting the abuse of alcohol by ensuring that all stakeholders play a critical role in the control and regulation of alcohol. It is critical to note that Liquor industry is one of the major contributors to the Province’s GDP, and currently Eastern Cape is contributing about R6, 4b to the liquor industry– providing income to thousands of households whilst adding significantly to the tax revenue. Liquor industry has an impact on the Provinces’ economy and indeed it influences our social lives and because of this, it becomes crucial that we put in place policy mechanisms to ensure that there is responsible trade and consumption of alcohol to alleviate unintended consequences that could undermine the positive contributions the sector has on the economy. The ECLB is therefore mandated to issue liquor licenses to aspiring liquor traders, and to date more than 8000 liquor licenses have been issued in the Eastern Cape.
As we issue licenses we also take a concerted effort to ensure that liquor traders are effectively trained in advanced business skills so they can manage their businesses in a more responsible and sustainable manner. I am glad to report that to date about 948 liquor traders have been empowered in business skills. We also seek to ensure compliance with the laws designed to bring about responsible liquor trading and consumption. Its success, therefore, would in the main hinge on the support received from all sections of our society. Ladies and gentlemen, ECLB is tasked with providing mechanisms aimed at reducing the adverse socio-economic and other effects of alcohol abuse. To this effect, it has formulated strategies around partnerships with our stakeholders to ensure that we have a socially responsible liquor industry which is conscious of the wellbeing of the communities within which it operates. It further ensures that while there will be timeous processing of liquor license applications, mechanisms to ensure compliance and enforcement of the Act are indeed in place to strike a balance where the interests of both traders and communities is not compromised. We are grateful that various stakeholders are part of the initiatives to curb alcohol abuse and there are many campaigns that have been initiated jointly by us as ECLB and other stakeholders to ensure that while there is growth in the sector, attention to potential social problems is promoted. Underage drinking is one of the challenges that the ECLB is committed to decisively deal with. This is against a backdrop of increasing cases of young people that indulge in alcohol. The study recently conducted by ECLB shows that underage people consume liquor more than their elders. It further shows that about 36% of learners in grades 8, 9, and 10 have ever tested alcohol. To this end, ECLB has conceptualised quite a number of intervention prgrammes that seek to alleviate the scourge of underage drinking. For example, a number of schools have been adopted at which school-based activities have been introduced to amplify messaging around the dangers of underage drinking. In each district municipality about ten schools have been adopted and ECLB is working with such schools to amplify messages on underage drinking. In this financial year ECLB has facilitated debates, drama, and sport tournaments in Cacadu, Buffalo City and Nelson Mandela Metro as mechanisms to keep young people away temptations of alcohol abuse. We are also confronted by a very unfortunate situation where a huge number of pregnant women consume alcohol and cause harm to their unborn babies through the development of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). This increasingly is becoming a problem for the Eastern Cape, however, there is currently no scientific data on the extent of FAS in the Province. To mitigate against this deficiency, SAB in partnership with ECLB has commissioned a study on the extent of FAS which is currently being conducted in the Nelson Mandela Metro at Betherlsdorp Township.
We further are extremely concerned with the mushrooming of illegal outlets in our Province, which inevitably contributes to the escalation of criminal activities and other related social ills. In our endeavour to eliminate illegal trading, about 130 Blitz Operations were conducted in the year 2013/14 and about 479 illegal outlets were identified and referred to the criminal justice. We have also introduced a Toll-Free Line (080 000 0420) to enable our people to report those who engage in illegal trading, and the number is available twenty-four hours. We are therefore expected to create a culture of activism around this sector where members of the public are aware of their rights and wouldn’t allow illegal traders to create social instability through irresponsible selling of liquor to children, pregnant women, and indeed intoxicated patrons. Once again, the success of the Board in creating sustainable and responsible liquor industry in the Eastern Cape requires co-operation from all other stakeholders in the industry, government, communities and civil society. Today we celebrate the launch of the Sobriety Week Campaign as part of our social accountability programme, and I am delighted to officially open the Eastern Cape Provincial Sobriety Week Campaign, an annual event, launched by the Department of Trade and Industry through the National Liquor Authority, with the aim of increasing awareness on the harmful effects of alcohol when consumed irresponsibly.
The campaign is aimed at creating awareness to the general South African Public, particularly the youth, women and pregnant women about the adverse effects of alcohol. The main objective of the campaign is to discourage consumption of alcohol by minors and promote responsible drinking amongst men and women whilst at the same time encouraging responsible trading. As the name of the campaign infers, we want to encourage people of the Eastern Cape to use this week starting from today, the 12th to the 19th of September to stay sober and those who decide to drink to do so in more responsibly way. We will sustain this message through various programmes during the week including utilisation media platforms. We launch this event here in Ndlambe Local Municipality at Bathurst Township and we have been made aware of the challenge relating to mushrooming of illegal taverns in this area and the increasing levels of alcohol abuse. We wish to use this opportunity to urge people to take responsibility of their lives by refraining from drinking irresponsibly. To those people who trade illegally, we would want to encourage them to come to our offices and enquire about processes of attaining a liquor license or face the wrath of the law. I wish to emphasise that in partnership with all our stakeholders we remain resolute in our endeavour to eliminate illegal liquor trading in the Province. The Launch of the Sobriety Week coincides with the International Foetal Alcohol Syndrome which is commemorated internationally on the 9th of September. We, therefore, join the entire world in conveying our messages to women of the Eastern Cape to refrain from drinking while pregnant as this behaviour exposes their unborn babies to a variety of health hazards. Ladies and gentlemen I invite you to join us in this journey of combating alcohol abuse and promoting responsible trading. Everyone has a role to play as we are seeking to create a society that is free of alcohol abuse sharing values of respect and dignity. I thank you.