Thousands of South Africans will today participate in various silent protests to stand in solidarity with the hospitality, restaurant and wine industries. After 118 days of the covid-19 lockdown, it is now fighting for survival.
Following a call by the Restaurant Association of South Africa (Rasa), restaurants from across Mzansi will from lunchtime block the roads outside their premises by dragging tables and chairs into the streets. The protest, called “Million Seats on the Streets”, is a desperate cry for help by the industry’s 800 000 staffers whose jobs are on the line because of stringent lockdown regulations.
“We were stopped dead in our tracks when the recent ban on all alcohol sales was announced.” – Annelize Stroebel
The once bustling wine routes of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek and Wellington in the Western Cape’s tourist hotspots are at the forefront of the protests. This after they, and other family wine farms joined forces with the Southern African Agri Initiative (SAAI) to have the sale and consumption of wine in restaurants set aside in court.
From 11:00 to 13:00, Wellington residents will have their pictures taken at a 200 metre long, empty table with 1 000 empty seats in Hexberg Road. In Stellenbosch, the eerily quiet Plein Street will from 12:00 onwards be the starting point of a massive “human link”. In accordance with worldwide coronavirus advisories, protestors will, however, not be holding hands, but instead be linked by ribbons and pieces of string, standing at least 1.5 metres apart.
In a Moneyweb interview, Rasa CEO Wendy Alberts says, “We are presenting a united front on this as a broader industry, for the government to take us more seriously. The industry is rallying together, and we believe the protest (today) will be the biggest countrywide protest the restaurant industry has ever organised.”
Alberts is hoping that the public protests – which promises to be peaceful, within the law and adhering to covid-19 rules – will somehow capture the attention of pres. Cyril Ramaphosa. Rasa calls on him to engage with the industry at a restaurant table of his choice.
“We were not consulted in any way by the presidency nor the department of trade, industry and competition (the DTI) even though we were continuously engaging with them,” says Elmarie Rabe, the manager of Stellenbosch Wine Routes.
“So, we have grouped together with a few other organisations, taking a motion to (North Gauteng High) court, firstly, to understand the motivation behind their decision (to ban liquor sales). Secondly, how the consumption of wine has influenced their decision.”
Rabe tells Food For Mzansi that the latest liquor sales ban came as a surprise and shock to the restaurant, tourism and hospitality industries which were already in a desperate fight for survival. Should the ban continue, at least 300 000 jobs in the wine ecosystem are on the line, she warns.
“This is right from the vineyards, to primary production and to the farm-based tourism activities, like farm accommodation. By closing us down and by prohibiting us from selling wine, you will cause a ripple effect in our industry – especially in our region that will leave the wine industry of the Western Cape in ruins.”
She says everyone in the industry is feeling discouraged and rather hopeless. They do not know how they will continue paying employees and still keep businesses running when there is no money coming in.
“When the (initial) alcohol ban was (first) lifted, there were farms who were opened for visitors from Monday to Thursday, but have now closed their gates again. Not all the wine farms have restaurants or alternative activities on the farm to keep the business going.”
Survival of family wine farms and tourism at stake
Rabe says every time there is a “stop and start” approach, thousands of farmers and agricultural workers in the wine industry along with the tourism, hospitality and taxi industries are severely affected as they are all interlinked.
“People who were working on the farms before the ban had to travel to the wine farms. Now they cannot travel, so the taxi industry is affected,” she says.
“People cannot support local shops because they are not getting a full salary or not getting a salary at all, so those people are affected. People who worked in the tasting rooms on wine farms are now no longer required until the ban is lifted, so they too are affected. In the tourism industry we have a big accommodation sector and they are not operating, so it means that all workers are impacted. This thing ripples out bigger and bigger.”
Meanwhile Annelize Stroebel, CEO of the Drakenstein Local Tourism Association, tells Food For Mzansi that they also support the SAAI court application scheduled for 18 August 2020.
“Family and individually owned wineries have been negatively affected since 27 March 2020 (when the lockdown kicked in). The domestic market is an important segment of our sales market. Huge losses took place when harvest activities were stunted with the implementation of the lockdown.”
There was, however, a glimmer of hope when online sales and limited trading hours were for a few weeks allowed for wine sales.
Stroebel says, “We were motivating through our associations for restaurants to serve wine with meals, and were stopped dead in our tracks when the recent ban on all alcohol sales was announced. This has caused great reason for concern for the survival of these family farms and wine tourism in totality.”
‘Show us the scientific data’ – SAAI
Stroebel says wine production forms part of our tourism product offering, and is one of the biggest attractions of especially the Boland region of the Western Cape. She explains that the wine industry generates considerable economic benefits to the region and contributes to the success of a number of businesses and industries that forms part of the bigger value chain.
SAAI chairman Theo de Jager adds, “For all practical purposes, these regulations that prohibit them from selling their product is bankrupting them. We need greater transparency and we need to see exactly what the (scientific) data is (that the decisions are based on). We need to make sure that the reasons why this decision was made is based on science.”