Vinpro takes govt. to court over alcohol sales ban

Vinpro and the Western Cape department of agriculture are working tiredly in an attempt to get wine back. Alcohol is one of the province's biggest money-bringers, and stakeholders say they are still recovering from previous lockdowns

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The wine industry body Vinpro has launched an urgent interim interdict application to lift the ban on the sale of wine in the Western Cape in a bid to seek interim relief for wine businesses. This, after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 14-day alcohol sales ban as part of the measures to try and curb further Covid-19 infections.

“The latest ban of two weeks that has now been imposed follows on 19 weeks of revenue loss over the past 15 months, which has had a devastating effect on the wine and tourism sector that employs more than 269 000 people,” says Rico Basson, Vinpro MD.

Vinpro managing director Rico Basson. Photo: Vinpro
Vinpro managing director Rico Basson. Photo: Vinpro

“A large number of our wine producers and wineries are small – more than 80% of the 529 wineries are small and medium enterprises and are reliant on direct sales to customers.

“Although wine exports may continue, the industry exports less than 50% of annual production, with the other half sold on home soil. With no financial support from government for these businesses, their prospects, and that of [their] employees, are extremely bleak.”

Basson believes the wine industry has worked tirelessly to be “part of the solution” when the Covid-19 pandemic gripped South Africa initially, and still continues to do so during the third wave.

“This included collaborating with government and proactively implementing preventative measures from farm to retail to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of the people working throughout our value-chain and the broader community.”

Vinpro’s recommendations ignored

According to Basson Vinpro and its industry partners made submissions to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) over the past weekend. This entailed specific interventions that would ensure a balanced approach to curb the spread of Covid-19, while also keeping the economy afloat.

“Unfortunately representations in respect of this risk-adjusted approach were not taken into account and a blanket ban was yet again announced,” says Basson.

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Initially, Vinpro approached the High Court on 27 January 2021 to seek relief from the financial impact of the previous ban. This, however, was postponed when the restrictions lifted once again. As a result, the matter was set to be heard in court between 23 and 27 August 2021.

“Vinpro is not saying restrictions are not justified when hospitals and particularly trauma units are under pressure. However, we believe that not only has the wrong level of government been dealing with the retail sale of liquor during the national state of disaster, but government has repeatedly implemented nationwide bans which are overbroad, unnecessary, unjustified and counter-productive,” Basson explains.

Minister Didiza, what’s your position?

Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development during a media briefing earlier today. Photo: Government ZA
Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development during a media briefing earlier today. Photo: Government ZA

Meanwhile, Dr Ivan Meyer, the Western Cape’s agricultural MEC, has written to the national minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza.

He has requested her assistance in addressing the impact of the alcohol sales ban.

“I alerted the minister to a particular problem in section 29 of the regulations published on 27 June 2021,” Meyer says via a statement.

Dr Ivan Meyer is the Western Cape minister of agriculture. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi
Dr Ivan Meyer is the Western Cape minister of agriculture. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“The regulation prohibits the transportation of liquor, except when destined for specific purposes (such as for export or the production of hand sanitisers, industrial use and others).”

There are, however, some other areas for which Meyer opines it is of the utmost importance that the transport of wine should be allowed.  These include:

  • transport to storage or bottling plants;
  • transport of samples to laboratories or potential buyers;
  • transport to certification bodies as per legislation;
  • transport of wine samples to venues where tasting for domestic and international competitions will take place;
  • transport of wine samples to training venues for students (e.g. registered viticulture students at Elsenburg College or Stellenbosch University); and
  • bonafide international tourists, returning to their countries of origin, who have already bought wine in South Africa.

Besides asking that the alcohol sales ban be lifted, Meyer is also urgently requesting that the regulations be amended to allow for:

  • the transportation of wine samples, the transportation of wine by tourists, and the transportation of wine to bottling plants and storage; and
  • wine and liquor to be sold online and delivered to consumers’ residences via transport/courier services.

“Wine is the third biggest export product of the Western Cape economy and contributes 6,5% to the province’s exports,” the MEC says.

“Implementing the above amendments to section 29 of the regulations published on 27 June 2021 will protect the jobs of the 45 610 people who work in the primary production side of the industry and support the livelihoods of 228 053 people.”

ALSO READ: Farmers continue to feed SA despite 14-day hard lockdown

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