South Africa has joined the international trend of taxing sugary drinks to reduce high rates of diabetes, hypertension and obesity. But the long-anticipated measure recommended by the WHO was fraught with controversy.
South Africa and the UK are the latest in a string of countries around the world to impose a soda surcharge, together with Ireland, Canada and the Philippines among those expected to follow in due course.
Efforts to raise the tax on sugary drinks — by up to 50% in some countries — have sparked standoffs between the beverage industry and the health lobby. It was no different in South Africa.
The protracted debate in the run-up to the new law saw Coca Cola executives suggest taxes don’t work in solving obesity.
However, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said the 11% surcharge levied on a can of soda since April 1 was long overdue.
“We are not banning sugar. We are just saying take them in moderate amounts. Every life minute of our existence we are being fed with these substances. It’s an overload on the human body,” Motsoaledi said.
The government said it was acting in the interests of the public in a country with a diabetes epidemic fueled by sugar and an overburdened health system.