Fact-checking South Africa’s health minister on the country’s ‘relationship with alcohol’

Comments 2


Three claims about alcohol consumption in South Africa

Source: South African health minister Zweli Mkhize (August 2020)



Two correct, one incorrect

  • The minister was correct that a significant majority in the country don’t drink – over 50% have never drunk alcohol at all, and 15% have given up.
  • He was also right that South Africans who do drink are amongst the top drinkers in the world.
  • But South African drinkers don’t consume more per person on average than anywhere else in Africa – on this score Tunisia, Eswatini and Namibia are ahead.

South Africa’s Covid-19 lockdown has included a number of restrictions on the sale of alcohol. The on-and-off ban on alcohol has sparked much debate and criticism.  

In a guest column for online news site News24, South Africa’s health minister Zweli Mkhize made three claims about the country’s alcohol consumption. 

He said that although only 31% of the population drinks alcohol, South Africans drink more per person than anywhere in Africa. He also claimed that they are among the top drinkers in the world.  

Africa Check contacted the minister’s office for the source of his information and has yet to receive a response.

Do the latest statistics support his claims? We checked. 


Only 31% of South Africans drink alcohol



Many online were skeptical of the health minister’s statement, saying the statistic was inaccurate, too low and a joke  

The most recent data on this topic comes from the World Health Organization, or WHO. It produces global alcohol and health status reports that provide information on alcohol consumption across the world for people aged 15 and older. 

The latest report showed that 69% of South Africans over the age of 15 did not drink alcohol in 2016. This group was made up of 53.5% of people who had never drunk alcohol and 15.5% who used to drink but had stopped. 

The WHO collects alcohol consumption figures from national governments and alcohol industry statistics. South Africa’s data was taken from South African Wine Industry Information and Systems, which measures the consumption of wine, spirits, beer and ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages.

The minister was correct – research shows that only 31% of South Africans drink alcohol. 

South Africa has high levels of binge drinking

The South African Medical Research Council’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit focuses on the extent and consequences of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use in South Africa. 

The unit’s director, Prof Charles Parry, and consultant Prof Neo Morojele have both previously stressed that most South African drinkers don’t use alcohol in moderation. 

“Moderate drinking, however you define it, is relatively rare in South Africa,” Morojele told Africa Check.

The country has high levels of binge drinking. Of those who do drink, 59% of them engage in “heavy episodic drinking”. 

The WHO defines this as consumption of “60 or more grams of pure alcohol on at least one occasion at least once per month”. This is the equivalent of drinking four 340 millilitres bottles of beer or 600 millilitres of white wine in one sitting.

In 2016, South Africa ranked 23rd out of 195 countries for heavy episodic drinking among those who drink.


South Africans drink more per person than anywhere else in Africa



South African drinkers over the age of 15 consumed on average 29.9 litres of pure alcohol each in 2016. The figure was 37.5 litres for men and 13.7 litres for women. 

But three other African countries had higher levels of consumption among drinkers. Tunisia (36.6 litres), Eswatini (34.4 litres) and Namibia (32.4 litres) were above South Africa in the ranking.

Alcohol consumption figures can also be considered in relation to a whole population, including non-drinkers. This is referred to as “per capita”. 

On this measure, South Africa ranked 9th out of 53 African countries, with 9.3 litres of pure alcohol per person in 2016. Nigeria took the top spot with 13.4 litres of pure alcohol per person.   


South Africans are among the top drinkers in the world



In support of this claim, Mkhize said that drinkers consumed on average 64.6 grams of pure alcohol per day. This was in comparison to the global average of 32.8 grams per drinker per day. 

World Health Organization data shows that South African drinkers over the age of 15 consumed 29.9 litres of pure alcohol each in 2016. This works out to 0.08 litres of pure alcohol a day, or 64.6 grams. 

The global average was 15.1 litres in 2016. This is 0.04 litres of pure alcohol a day, or 32.8 grams. 

Based on these figures, South Africa ranked sixth out of 189 countries for alcohol consumption among drinkers.



© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.

Comment on this report

Comments 2
  1. By marcus

    I find it enormously amusing to see how enthusiastic supposed liberals are for authoritarian measures which supposedly are for the public good. Directly interfering with the right to make personal decisions should be used with extreme caution and reluctance but it is apparent that the government is starting to follow the same puritanical route as the NP which correlates with increased authoritarianism. I seriously doubt the statistics relating to number of drinkers in South Africa and would be curious to know the methodology. Considering the use of traditional beers in indigenous religious beliefs etc. the idea that only 30% of saffers drink is very hard to credit.

    Reply Report comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Africa Check encourages frank, open, inclusive discussion of the topics raised on the website. To ensure the discussion meets these aims we have established some simple House Rules for contributions. Any contributions that violate the rules may be removed by the moderator.

Contributions must:

  • Relate to the topic of the report or post
  • Be written mainly in English

Contributions may not:

  • Contain defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or harassing language or material;
  • Encourage or constitute conduct which is unlawful;
  • Contain material in respect of which another party holds the rights, where such rights have not be cleared by you;
  • Contain personal information about you or others that might put anyone at risk;
  • Contain unsuitable URLs;
  • Constitute junk mail or unauthorised advertising;
  • Be submitted repeatedly as comments on the same report or post;

By making any contribution you agree that, in addition to these House Rules, you shall be bound by Africa Check's Terms and Conditions of use which can be accessed on the website.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.