What is the Law on Underage Drinking?

It’s difficult to understate the impact alcohol has had on humanity. We’ve been making and consuming it for literally thousands of years and it’s become one of the most popular psychoactive substances on the planet. People compose songs, make movies and write books about alcohol and its effects and it has a major influence on the world’s economy. It should come as no surprise then that youngsters occasionally get their hands on it and the results are usually less than stellar. But what does the law say? What is the Law on Underage Drinking?

Most people are aware that the consumption of alcohol by minors is illegal in South Africa as it is in most countries around the world, but there are a few other rules that are often overlooked.

For instance, according to the Liquor Act of 2003, selling or supplying alcohol to minors is also illegal, additionally, when selling or supplying alcohol, individuals must take ‘reasonable measures’ to ensure that the recipient is not, in fact, a minor. This means that a claim of ignorance (for example, simply saying that you thought the person was old enough) may not always get you off the hook.

What is the Law on Underage Drinking?

Is it illegal to Advertise Alcohol to Minors?

Yes, alcohol advertisements that are intended to attract or target minors are illegal in South Africa. Likewise, no liquor or methylated spirit may be advertised in a ‘false or misleading manner’.

What is the Legal Drinking Age in South Africa?

Currently, the drinking age in South Africa is 18 years old, that said, there are multiple groups who are petitioning the government to introduce legislation that would increase this limit up to 21 years old in an attempt to combat the negative effects of alcohol consumption in minors. 

Can a Minor Drink Alcohol at Home/Under Supervision?

Even the strictest parents may find themselves giving their kids the odd sip of beer while at home. Teenagers, in particular, are often allowed to join in family celebrations, after all, it’s not a problem if they’re doing it at home, right?

Well, as noted, it is illegal to supply alcohol to a minor, however, Chapter 2 Section 10 of the Liquor Act does point out that a minor’s parent, guardian or person responsible for administering a religious sacrament may, on occasion, give that minor a ‘moderate’ quantity of alcohol to be consumed by that minor while under the supervision of the individual.

There’s a lot of room for interpretation there but, generally speaking, people under the age of 18 shouldn’t be getting drunk even if they’re at home.

What is the Law on Underage Drinking?
What is the Law on Underage Drinking?

Can I Send My Child to Buy Alcohol for Me?

No, as mentioned, it is illegal for minors to buy alcohol and parents who send their children to purchase booze on their behalf may find themselves being held responsible for the infringement.

What is the Penalty for Underage Drinking?

Technically speaking, those found guilty of breaking any of the aforementioned rules can be hit with a fine of up to R1 million or imprisonment for up to 5 years. In reality, however, these sorts of penalties are reserved for the most prolific offenders and a drunk 17-year-old is probably not going to spend their early 20’s behind bars.

That said, enterprises that are caught selling alcohol to minors will likely lose their liquor licence.

Is it Legal to Make Your Own Alcohol?

For the most part, yes, it is legal, but there are many restrictions and requirements that apply. Most notably, the alcohol you produce cannot be sold without a liquor license and is only available for personal consumption.

Another important distinction that must be made is between brewing and distilling alcohol. The brewing process involves simple fermentation and usually produces products like beer and wine. This procedure is largely unregulated and, as noted, you just need to ensure that the resulting product is created for your own consumption.

Distilling involves purifying liquids via heating and usually creates alcohol with a much higher proof level such as whiskey or gin. Once again, this product cannot be sold without a liquor license and should only be used for personal consumption, however, those who wish to distil their own alcohol will also have to register their stills as well as register themselves as home-distillers.

There are also many stipulations that apply when legally purchasing a still, for example, the relevant licences must be held by the seller. Lastly, ‘selling alcohol’ is quite well covered from a legal perspective, so don’t try and get around the law by producing your own beer and then ‘trading it’.

What is the Law on Underage Drinking?
What is the Law on Underage Drinking?

Can you Sell Alcohol Online?

While it is legal to sell alcohol online, a liquor licence is still required. That said, licences usually only allow administrative work to be done on residential properties so don’t expect that you’ll be allowed to run a shebeen from your garage.

Is it illegal to be Drunk in Public?

Yes, although bylaws differ slightly depending on the province, being ‘drunk, violent or disorderly’ in most places such as public areas or premises on which alcohol is sold is illegal and provides grounds for arrest. That said, many offenders will normally be released once they sober up without any further penalties.

Additionally, many bylaws make the consumption of alcohol in public an offence even if the individual is not drunk.

Is it illegal to Sell Alcohol to Someone who is Drunk?

Once again, certain provinces may have different rules but for the most part, yes, it is an offence to sell alcohol to an intoxicated person.

What is the Law on Underage Drinking?
What is the Law on Underage Drinking?

Can an Employee be Paid using Alcohol?

No, workers cannot be given alcohol as a substitute for their wages.

Can you Drink in a Parked Car?

Some provinces, such as Gauteng, include ‘vehicles parked in public places’ into their definitions of public areas, as such, drinking while in these vehicles, even if the car is parked or even if you are the passenger would be an offence. That said, other provinces are generally less strict in terms of their regulations.

In Conclusion – What is the Law on Underage Drinking?

In South Africa, alcohol may not be sold or supplied to any individuals under the age of 18. Adults must also take reasonable steps to ensure that the people they are selling alcohol to, are above age. Additionally, alcohol retailers are prohibited from advertising alcohol in a manner that is intended to target or attract minors and may not advertise alcohol or methylated spirits in a false or misleading manner.

One exception to underage drinking is made with regard to moderate amounts of alcohol occasionally being given to minors by their parents, guardians or those responsible for religious sacraments, that being said, minors do not have free reign to drink alcohol so long as they are at home or being supervised by their parents. It is also an offence to send a minor to buy alcohol for an adult and penalties for the aforementioned infringements can technically result in fines of up to R1 million or up to 5 years in prison.

It is legal to brew your own alcohol provided that it is made for personal consumption and not sold or traded, however, if you intend to distil your own alcohol, you will need to register your still and you will need to register yourself as a home distiller before you can legally begin. Once again, any alcohol produced cannot be sold without a liquor licence and must still be purchased from a licenced and registered seller.

What is the Law on Underage Drinking?
What is the Law on Underage Drinking?

Bylaws determine the rules regarding public intoxication and thus regulations may differ slightly depending on the province in question, that being said, drinking in public, public intoxication and the sale of alcohol to intoxicated individuals is normally illegal in provinces such as Gauteng even prohibiting the consumption of alcohol while in a vehicle that is in a public area. 

It is important to remember that the laws regarding liquor in South Africa are constantly shifting with current legislation even being proposed that would increase the legal drinking age to 21 years old. Individuals should always check up on the local regulations to ensure that they are not at risk of committing an offence.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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2 Responses

  1. Marna says:

    Thank you for the insightful article. I have a question regarding this. Can my 16 year old son (soon to be 17) serve alcohol in a restaurant (in the seating area and behind the bar counter) a as a waiter? I cannot find a specific rule on that. Thank you.

  1. May 9, 2022

    […] that needs to be addressed – alcohol. The law is usually quite strict when it comes to the topic of minors and liquor and it’s generally accepted that the two should rarely mix. But what happens when they’re not […]

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