Can you imagine having your first legal beer at your 21st Birthday Party?

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How about drinks after the game at the varsity rugby club being restricted to tea, coffee and soft drinks?

As an 18-year-old you may vote for your favourite political party and celebrate their victory at the polls but only with a cup of tea or coffee. At that age, you are mature enough to decide the future of the country but not quite mature enough to decide whether you should have a beer or not.

You are entitled to marry without parental consent once you are 18 years old. If, however, you are still under 21 years old, you will not be allowed to drink champagne at your wedding.

At the age of 18 years, you will be old enough to serve in the armed forces and fight for your country. You will, however, have to wait until you are 21 before you will be allowed into the army canteen to have a beer or a glass of wine.

The Liquor Amendment Bill of 2016 which is presently winding its way through the parliamentary process, will prohibit the consumption of liquor by persons under the age of 21 years.

The debate around the harmful effects of liquor is over. The costs to the state of the abuse of liquor are generally recognised and accepted. What remains to be considered is whether the provisions of the Amendment Bill will achieve what it intends to.

The age of 21 is an arbitrary one. It has been chosen because this was the previous age of majority and has been set as the minimum drinking age in some countries where the age of majority is 21. One of the arguments in favour of raising the drinking age has been that the human brain is still in the process of development between the ages of 18 and 25 and may be harmed by the abuse of liquor. If this is the case, then why not set the minimum drinking age at 25?

The major difficulty is that this provision will be almost impossible to enforce. The 18-year drinking age has been in force since the Tielman Roos Liquor Act of 1928. This has not stopped underage drinking over the years and 90 years later the abuse of liquor by teenagers is still rife. There is no reason to believe that the new drinking age will be enforced with any more success. In fact, the authorities are no better at enforcing liquor legislation at present than they were in 1928. The demands made on the police today to combat violent crime, corruption and gangsterism are tremendous. It would be ludicrous to add to their duties the burden of ensuring that 20-year-old university students, rugby players, soldiers, youth league members, union members etc. do not drink liquor at their gatherings and to charge those who do criminally. To place this burden on our criminal justice system cannot be justified. We all know that what will happen is that the provision will become a dead letter as is the case with many other enactments relating to liquor. The prohibition will simply be ignored and the authorities will not be able to do a thing about it. It is not a good idea to make laws which are not capable of enforcement. It leads to disrespect for the law and consequently to a culture of lawlessness.

The proponents of the new age limit point to Texas as an example where the drinking age is 21. There is no comparison between South Africa and Texas when it comes to law enforcement. When you drive on a highway in Texas with a defective tail light there is a good chance that you will be stopped, asked to get out of your vehicle, told to place your hands on the car and to assume the position. And all this at gunpoint. In South Africa, there is little chance of you being stopped in the first place but if you are then you would be allowed to remain seated behind the steering wheel while you negotiate a suitable “fine”.

It is not too late for the government to repent and change its mind.

We sincerely hope that they will.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Solly Epstein
C & A Friedlander Inc.
– Liquor Law

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