Many South Africans are idly watching the government remove their freedoms. Exaggerated as you may think this claim is, the government has several policies and Bills on standby which suggest that this threat is very real. As all three levels of government begin to tighten the noose around the necks of ordinary people, where do you stand? Does the government know best, and should they be allowed to chip away at our hard-won freedoms?

On May 31, Gauteng MEC for Economic Development Qedani Mahlangu announced plans to prohibit the sale of alcohol at retail stores on Sundays. A relic of apartheid, this archaic regulation was recently scrapped. It would seem that the state intends to reduce the ills of alcohol abuse, and however commendable such an initiative may be, it is not practical or well-researched. Beyond the fact that such a policy would exclude shebeens and taverns from its puritanical provisions, research shows that the prohibition of alcohol sales on Sundays is ineffective.

In the US, the state of Washington allowed the limited sale of alcohol on Sundays. There were no recorded increases in alcohol-related problems in the state, and the government actually benefited from increased tax revenues. Furthermore, the University of Georgia commissioned a study on the effects of repealing the prohibition of alcohol sales on Sundays. The study found that in the 1995 to 2005 period there had been no increase in alcohol-related traffic fatalities or incidents in the US on Sundays.

However, the supposed advantages of such a conservative regulation are not of concern in this debate. Not only because it makes little sense that banning the sale of liquor one day a week will somehow fix the many issues which plague our society, but also because there is no substantial proof that such a ban is beneficial at all. Based on the fact that the proposal includes religious holidays one can make the assumption that the state might not be aiming to reduce the ills of alcohol at all; instead aiming to impose a form of morality on South Africa.

Local governments are also in the process of implementing autocratic measures: section 15.2.2 of the City of Tshwane’s draft drug by-law prohibits the sale of any item with a “logo, sign or any other type of image relating to drugs and drug use”. One will no longer be able to purchase T-shirts or caps decorated with marijuana leaves at Menlyn shopping centre! And if you do manage to find an establishment that does sell such silly items it could lose its trading permit, according to the provisions of the by-law. The municipality will manage to suppress both freedom of expression and the right to trade freely, concurrently.

Replacing personal freedom with paternalism is dangerous. The government should not have the power to strip citizens of their rights, or get away with limiting the right to trade. In a free society, the individual should not be denied the right to do something because it offends the morality of another — unless the individual’s actions cause injury or damage. And petty state interference and intervention will not prevent drug or alcohol abuse. In fact, the impact of creeping statism on the economy can only be negative, and over-regulation will scare away investors.

Regardless of the unconstitutionality of many of the government’s proposals, they push ahead — as they are doing with the Secrecy Bill. One must simply ask: is the state’s encroachment on one’s rights reasonable? And when one considers the ANC government’s motivation behind the numerous rights-squashing plans, there isn’t a good enough reason why it should limit one’s rights. Whereas the banning of tobacco advertising is reasonable, is the prohibition of liquor sales on Sundays reasonable (or reasoned)? Why not consider limiting alcohol advertising or increase the sin tax on liquor?

South Africans must stand up to the threat that autocratic legislation poses to our rights. Unreasonable state interference with unproven benefits has no place in a liberal democracy. The question is: will we fight against such illogical regulations or idly watch the state remove our freedoms?


  • Thorne Godinho has been a struggling freelance writer, blogger and editor for years. He completed his law degree at the University of Pretoria, and is embarking on an LLM focusing on the intersection between law and democracy at the University of Cape Town where he is a Claude Leon Scholar in Constitutional Governance. Thorne is a committed social liberal. He writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on twitter: @ThorneGo.


Thorne Godinho

Thorne Godinho has been a struggling freelance writer, blogger and editor for years. He completed his law degree at the University of Pretoria, and is embarking on an LLM focusing on the intersection between...

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