Wine industry body Vinpro’s challenge to the decision-making behind prolonged liquor bans over the past year will have to wait until August 2021, due to the late filing of documents by Government’s legal teams.
The matter was expected to be heard before a full bench of judges in the Western Cape High Court this week (on 28 and 29 April 2021), but could not proceed due to the late filing of the answering affidavits by government.
In a media release, Vinpro managing director Rico Basson says, “We are extremely disappointed by the postponement of this court case, but the late filing and incorporation of additional affidavits that are not related to the main thrust of Vinpro’s challenge, effectively forced the postponement.”
Vinpro is challenging, among others, the implementation and maintenance of nationwide bans by national government, deeming its decision to impose the alcohol ban, “overbroad, unnecessary, unjustified, and indeed counterproductive”.
Because the case was to be postponed, new available dates for the legal teams and judges allocated to the matter had to be found. National government is also represented by three teams of advocates and an earlier date suitable to all the advocates could not be found.
“Vinpro has objected from the outset against the large contingent of advocates representing national government,” says Basson.
“It is indeed ironic that national government is paying for so many lawyers when they say in the court papers they do not have sufficient resources to police more targeted lockdown measures, such as manning roadblocks and imposing bans only in hotspot areas.”
Basson adds, “National government is arguing, in particular, that it cannot exempt the Western Cape or other provinces from future liquor bans, even if there is more than enough hospital capacity, because it does not have the resources to put up roadblocks to prevent liquor from being exported to other provinces.”
Basson says Vinpro’s legal team will now use the additional time to finalise the replying affidavits and prepare for argument.
Open wound continues to bleed
Meanwhile, Basson says the South African wine industry remains under severe financial strain as it struggles to recover from prolonged bans imposed in the past year.
This, he adds, has opened a “can of worms” as the industry grapples with several challenges including high stock levels, rising input costs and logistical problems at ports which are hampering exports.
“Many businesses have had to close, resulting in job losses and severely affecting the livelihoods of those hardworking men and women who are dependent on our industry,” Basson says.
Should another ban be introduced before the next court date, Vinpro intends to exercise its right to seek urgent interim relief from the Cape High Court. The organisation will then ask the court to afford the Premier of the Western Cape the power to adopt deviations to enable the off- and on-consumption sale of liquor in the Western Cape.
Basson adds, “Ultimately similar relief will be sought in respect of other provinces”.