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South Africa’s alcohol ban has given ‘massive boost’ to criminal gangs

South Africa's alcohol ban has given ‘massive boost’ to criminal gangs thumbnail

Prohibition of beer and spirit sales has cut rates of murder and violence but the resulting illicit trade will now be hard to stop

The lockdown has been tough for David Mkoswe, a mechanic who lives in Alexandra, a sprawling township on the north-eastern edges of Johannesburg. Since Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, restricted the country’s 56 million inhabitants to their homes in late March, Mkoswe only earns if he works, and any savings are quickly spent.

For the last three weeks, there has been no money to buy milk for his nine-month-old daughter. “My little girl has been crying all the time,” Mkoswe, 38, said yesterday.

But there has been another problem too. The strict lockdown imposed eight weeks ago included a prohibition on buying or transporting alcoholic drinks. “Within days, there was no more beer. Then there was no whisky,” said Mkoswe, who struggles with alcoholism.

The lockdown is now almost over. On Monday, South Africa will move to “level three” of five, allowing many more businesses and some public transport to function under strict conditions. Covid-19 has spread relatively slowly across Africa, where there are only 130,000 cases. But South Africa is the worst hit country, with more than 27,000 of these, and scientists predict a surge over the coming months.

Zweli Mkhize, the health minister, said last week that the drastic restrictions had been effective at halting a rapidly spreading outbreak, but acknowledged the very high costs in a country where more than 50% of people live in poverty. “We can’t hold the lockdown for ever … There has to be relief of hunger and social distress,” Mkhize told reporters.

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