Mzansi’s relaxed lockdown regulations will help bars, restaurants and tavern businesses on the road to recovery. The decision to uphold the weekend ban on off-consumption alcohol sales will however continue to damage the industry. This is the view of the South African Liquor Brand Owners Association (SALBA) following president Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of lockdown level 2.
Addressing the nation on Sunday night (12 September), Ramaphosa said the sale of alcohol from retail outlets for off-site consumption will now be permitted between 10:00 and 18:00 from Monday to Friday.
Licenced businesses are now allowed to sell alcohol for on-site consumption until 22:00 at night. Alcohol consumption in public spaces remains prohibited.
“We recognise these hardships and will continue to find ways, within our means, of supporting these sectors and taking steps to enable their recovery,” Ramaphosa said, speaking of restaurants, bars, taverns, hotels, conference venues and others in the hospitality sector that have seen a massive decline in business due to protracted sales bans.
Government is ‘fuelling illicit trading’
Ramaphosa’s announcements, including to shift the start of curfew to 23:00 and to increase gathering limits to 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors, have been welcomed by SALBA.
The organisation described it as a positive step to support the recovery of bars, restaurants and tavern businesses.
However, it is concerned about the continued prohibition of off-consumption sales on Saturdays and Sundays, as government has failed to justify their rationale behind this industry-damaging decision.
SALBA chairperson Sibani Mngadi says, “We have approached the ministerial advisory council and government representatives at Nedlac [National Economic Development and Labour Council]. None of them has been able to provide any justification for this or some scientific evidence to support the decision.”
The association also recently said that the restrictions have only encouraged the illicit alcohol industry, further damaging the legitimate enterprises struggling under the weight of ‘irrational’ measures.
In this regard, Food For Mzansi reported that role players in the liquor industry helped the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the South African Police Service (SAPS) seize more than 152 000 bottles (12 700 cases) of spirits from a warehouse in Mpumalanga following a year-long investigation.
The illicit alcohol industry has also damaged the supply chain, and SALBA believes the further support to organised crime that government’s blunt policy interventions enable, is “exceptionally worrying” for the legal alcohol industry.
Time for economic recovery
Mngadi cautions that the recent unemployment figures released by Stats SA, illustrate that South Africa has 15 million unemployed people. “It is an accumulation of unfortunate decisions to shut down economic activities over that past year, including four total bans of alcohol sales,” he says.
Kurt Moore, SALBA’s chief executive officer, believes that it is time to drive the recovery of the South African economy.
“We need to sustain the marginal GDP growth of 1.2% announced by Stats SA last month. Critical to the sustainability of the relaxed regulations is our commitment to support the government in improving vaccine uptake,” Moore says.
Vaccine passport a further worry
But the elephant in the room, as economic recovery efforts in the alcohol industry grind forward, is South Africa’s proposed vaccine passport to buy alcohol.
The proposal was first mooted by Limpopo health MEC Phophi Ramathuba, who said her department was holding discussions with liquor traders in the province about refusing to sell alcohol to unvaccinated customers.
However, according to Lucky Ntimane, convener of the National Liquor Traders Council, allowing alcohol sales to patrons only if they are vaccinated would lead to a violation of people’s rights. He told SABC News that questions abound about the policy of the department of health, mandatory vaccination or a strategy around public spaces, and that government has not consulted with them on the complex issue. “However, we think that the vaccine passport as a way to allow people to access taverns, is not a way to go.”
Industry ramps up vax efforts
In his address, president Ramaphosa said that South Africa was fast becoming a vaccination site, pointing out that over a quarter of all adult South Africans had received at least one vaccine dose.
He also confirmed that more than seven million people are fully vaccinated.
The alcohol industry says it is expanding its support of broader societal efforts to reach herd immunity and to return economic activity to some level of normality.
Initially, the industry’s focus was to support the vaccination of its employees.
“We have seen an extraordinary uptake in the vaccination rollout. As of 11 September, more than 14,7 million vaccines had been administered,” Moore says. “We commend the department of health and we are committed to supporting the efforts to expand immunisation even further through our industry infrastructure and brand properties.”
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