As the chief executive of the Beer Association of South Africa (Basa), Patricia Pillay has become a much-needed voice of reason during the Covid-19 pandemic. From fighting the earlier alcohol sales bans to seeking excise relief for craft brewers, she’s done it all.
This, amid her daily challenge to drive transformation in the beer industry. She is also on a mission to help open more doors for women brewers. “There are still consumers out there who think a beer can only be brewed by a man,” says Pillay.
The well-known beer boss sat down with Food For Mzansi during a recent hops harvest tour hosted by South African Breweries. Among others, she believes that “beer tourism” and “beer agriculture” can help to create jobs in disadvantaged communities.
Tiisetso Manoko: It’s hops harvest season here in the Southern Cape. The hop resin in the flowers is a pretty yellow-gold, and it’s time to get picking. Isn’t this just the most exciting time for beer lovers?
Patricia Pillay: What really excites me is to see how the whole [beer] value chain comes together to feel and touch it. People only see the final products, but we are lucky to go behind the scenes.
For me, the journey really starts with the hops farm until the final product [reaches us as an ice-cold beer]. It really is an inspiration to see everyone giving their best to make this work. This is what we talk about when we say we need to put more emphasis on “beer agriculture” and “beer tourism” to stimulate the economy of our country.
What are the most pressing challenges currently facing the beer industry?
Government needs to come to the party in addressing the challenges that the industry is facing. We have reached out [to them] as an association. We have urged government to come to the table; to let us work together.
If we all come together, we can do more in terms of job creation, skills development, empowering young people, and getting them ready to be employable through relevant training. There are many aspects that government can help us with. Them failing to recognise and support us is disappointing and this could lead to this industry shedding thousands of jobs.
Transformation is always a hot potato in South Africa. Do you have a special message as the leader of this industry?
We have come a long way as an industry. I think the concept, for example, of a brewer being only a man has really changed. We have young, black women that are brewing. They are heading up breweries. They are mastering breweries and, of course, we have young men who also own breweries now.
That is the tone being set by the industry. The perception needs to change from the outside. There are still consumers out there who think a beer can only be brewed by a man. That is not true.
The issue of thinking that only a certain race group can own a brewery, that is wrong, and we need to change that perception. There are dynamic young people of colour who really want to make a name for themselves in this industry.
Are we doing enough to mentor and nourish a new crop of brewers?
We are seeing younger woman entering the industry every year as they realise that this is an ideal platform for them to grow and develop. Again, we will talk about the support from government. They need to realise that if they want entrepreneurs and transformation and want women to step up and not just having a skill, they also need to start investing in buying these young people machinery to kickstart their businesses. Buy them raw materials. That is the support we need for start-ups.
Mzansi’s Covid-19 state of disaster is now set to expire on Friday, 15 April despite earlier indications that it might be lifted sooner. How does this impact the beer industry?
It is not allowing us certainty to trade. This is hanging over our heads. It is putting us on alert that we could go to [a hard] lockdown at any time. We have continuously said that during the period of national disaster we have not been consulted as the industry. We have not been allowed to put our case regarding the impact that these lockdowns have had on us.
We know that it is not business as usual, but we need some sense of certainty. We want to trade freely. It is making it difficult for us to attract investment as the future is not certain.
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