Home News Choose life before economic growth, urges wine producer

Choose life before economic growth, urges wine producer

Wine brand-owner Siwela Masoga is a lone voice in an industry that opposes pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s extended alcohol sales ban to limit Covid-19 deaths. Her peers, however, believe government should consider alternatives to give the wine industry a better chance at survival

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While many South Africans are fuming over the extended alcohol sales ban, at least one wine producer is toasting to government’s approach, stating that she much prefers the loss of income over the loss of lives.

Siwela Masoga, the winemaker and owner of Siwela Wines, was reacting on Cyril Ramaphosa’s “family meeting” earlier this week.

Much to the disappointment of the agricultural sector, the president has indefinitely extended the ban on alcohol sales and the on-site consumption thereof. This was done to alleviate pressure on the national health system in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Siwela Masoga, owner of Siwela wines. Photo: Supplied.
Siwela Masoga, the owner and winemaker of Siwela Wines. Photo: Supplied

Masoga describes government’s alcohol ban in response to the second wave of infections as justified. This is despite the subsequent loss of income brought about by the decision, also on her Cape Town-based urban winery.

“We are living in unprecedented times, so it’s not business as usual. This is a pandemic and a deadly one,” she says.

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“It would be insensitive for my business to put profit before the lives of the same people who are expected to buy from me. They are the reason why my business is in business. Without them there is no business whatsoever.”

Masoga is also adamant that reckless behaviour (coupled with alcohol misuse) and alcohol-related accidents are not only putting severe strain on hospitals across South Africa, but also contributing to increased coronavirus infections. “We had a responsibility as South Africans to understand and appreciate the times that we live in. But we failed, and that will cost us a huge price within the industry.”

 

‘Consider alternatives instead’

Meanwhile opposing views on this “life-or-death matter” for the alcohol industry is shared by many wine producers and other agricultural roleplayers. They tell Food For Mzansi that, instead of banning alcohol sales, government should’ve struck a balance between saving lives and livelihoods.

According to Gunter Scholtz, winemaker and general manager of Baleia Wines and Olive Oil in Riversdale, their company has become unprofitable overnight as a result of the alcohol sales ban. Government is not policing its own laws properly, he says.

“Being under the influence in a public space is a criminal offence. If this law had been enforced, there would be less gender-based violence, rape, murder and other crimes.”

Gunter Scholtz, winemaker and general manager of Baleia wines. Photo: Supplied.
Gunter Scholtz, winemaker and general manager of Baleia Wines and Olive Oil. Photo: Supplied

For this winemaker, the solution lies in government spending its budget on law enforcement around alcohol misuse. He argues that it is nearly impossible for members of the public to take legislation seriously amid widespread government corruption.

“The police need to be target-specific and stop the public from breaking the laws that are there to protect their health,” he says.

Scholtz furthermore calls for “serious consequences” for those found outside during the curfew hours, people without masks and those caught drunk in public spaces. Also, an alcohol intake limit per person should be allotted at bars and restaurants.

Expansion plans ruined

Berene Sauls, wine producer and owner of Tesselaarsdal, outside Caledon, is also not impressed by the alcohol sales ban which is now threatening the livelihoods of at least a million people.

As a small-scale producer, Sauls says she was forced to suspend her plans for vineyard development indefinitely. Her cashflow has also been dealt a massive blow.

Berene Sauls, owner of Tesselaarsdal Wines. Photo: Supplied.
Berene Sauls, owner and winemaker of Tesselaarsdal Wines. Photo: Supplied

While she understands that the sales ban was introduced in a desperate attempt to try and save lives,  she does not fully agree with it.

“Other countries continued with online liquor sales and stricter curfews on liquor stores and restaurants. However, they did not allow a complete ban as this has a ripple effect on not only cash flows, but employment, agriculture, sustainability, the hospitality industry, transport companies and much more.”

Sauls calls on government to assist small businesses, like hers, to prevent possibly permanent closure. Also, she believes online liquor trading could have been another option to explore.

Hopeful for industry survival

But, while the wine industry remains anxious about its revival, Masogo has absolutely no doubt that it will. However, she says, the same cannot be said for lives lost because of Covid-19.

Masogo feels strongly that this is not only a time to zoom in on alcohol-related abuse, but also to educating consumers to drink responsibly. Her message to her peers in the wine industry is simple: Consider the lives of your workers and consumers. After all, there will be no wine industry if everyone could do as they please.

“We need the health sector to focus on Covid-19 cases, not alcohol-related injuries. Difficult as it will be, we shall overcome, together.”

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Duncan Masiwa
Duncan Masiwa
DUNCAN MASIWA is a budding journalist with a passion for telling great agricultural stories. He hails from Macassar, close to Somerset West in the Western Cape, where he first started writing for the Helderberg Gazette community newspaper. Besides making a name for himself as a columnist, he is also an avid poet who has shared stages with artists like Mahalia Buchanan, Charisma Hanekam, Jesse Jordan and Motlatsi Mofatse.
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