South Africa must use safer packaging for traditional beer

BY: Raymond Dube – Nampak Liquid Cartons managing director 

Traditional sorghum beer is woven into the rich history of South Africa but in the current context how can producers use appropriate packaging to ensure the beer that is sold is hygienic and safe to drink? 

Since lockdown was implemented at the end of March 2020, South Africans from all walks of life have experienced the full spectrum of the impact of the banning and unbanning of alcohol.  

Nampak liquid cartons 
Nampak liquid cartons

The initial ban on the sale of alcohol, meant to last only 21 days, was extended by several months until it was finally unbanned, then banned and most recently unbanned again on 18 August. 

Dangers of home brewing 

Soon after lockdown, we started to witness some of the dangers of home brewing. MEC Faith Mazibuko called out home brewers in a scathing social media post after Gauteng community safety officials found that traditional beer being sold at an informal settlement in Soweto was infested with maggots. Additionally, many South Africans have died or were hospitalised from drinking homebrew they had either made or purchased illegally. And, whilst homebrewing is not specifically tied to lockdown or the banning of alcohol, there are both safe and unsafe methods of homebrewing, with many South Africans finding themselves insufficiently stocked during lockdown. 

The brewing and consumption of quality traditional (or sorghum) beer has a long and rich history in South Africa. Tribes throughout Africa have brewed beer for centuries and carried the art of brewing sorghum with them as they migrated across the continent. Traditional beer brewing is steeped in traditions that go hand-in-hand with ceremonial and cultural occasions and gatherings.  

Protecting such a key part of the South African ethos must become a priority for the country. 

Sorghum beer needs safe packaging  

Homebrewed and commercial sorghum beer is often sold in unhygienic and unsafe packaging that isn’t tamper-proof. Therefore, any substance can be added to the brew.  

Unscrupulous traders often open the beer and water it down or add dangerous concoctions to it such as other alcohol, methylated spirits and in severe cases even battery acid to give it a “kick”. This means that people often get sick, or worse. 

Some traders also reuse unsafe packaging and under declare how much beer they are really selling, thereby dodging excise duties and other taxes.   

So, what’s the solution? How do we ensure that beer isn’t tampered with and guarantee the safety of South Africans who consume it? 

Here’s how 

Illicit home brews are mostly packed in open and unhygienic containers which are easily susceptible to abuse and meddling.  

But conical cartons are sealed and cannot be meddled with. So, retailers and consumers can trust that the beer inside a sealed carton is the same great quality that left the brewery, and nothing else.  



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