Ultimatum: ‘Lift booze ban or see you in court,’ says Vinpro

Acting Judge Noluthando Nziweni from the Western Cape High Court reserved her judgment in Vinpro’s urgent application. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Acting Judge Noluthando Nziweni from the Western Cape High Court reserved her judgment in Vinpro’s urgent application. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

In a desperate last attempt to save the wine industry, Vinpro has given government an ultimatum: either lift the alcohol sales ban by Friday, 5 February 2021 or brace yourself for a court battle.

Moments ago, the powerful wine industry body confirmed that although they share government’s concern about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it can no longer be a witness to the slow death of the booze industry.

Rico Basson, managing director of Vinpro. Photo: Supplied.

The indefinite ban on alcohol sales is a deal-breaker after the alcohol industry went to considerable lengths to assist government in flattening the coronavirus curve. Instead, Vinpro says, alternative interventions should be explored to save the industry from death.

“(The ban) resulted in a loss of more than R8 billion in direct sales and the possible closure of cellars and producers,” says Vinpro MD Rico Basson in a no-holds-barred media release.

In the wine industry alone, it is threatening 27 000 jobs “and putting the most vulnerable in our communities in a poverty trap which will have far reaching socio-economic outcomes that will place an even greater strain on our healthcare system.”

In total, the booze sales ban has been in place for 19 weeks since March 2020. President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier reiterated that the ban was implemented in a desperate attempt to relieve pressure on the health system.

Flexibility is required

Basson says, “Furthermore, with the 2021 harvest commencing this week, the industry now has more than 640 million litres of stock of which 300 million is uncontracted. This poses a material risk of insufficient processing and storage capacity for the new harvest and threatens the sustainability of the wine industry.”

While Vinpro shares government’s concern over the destructive effect of the pandemic, the wine industry is left with no choice but to approach the Cape High Court regarding the alcohol sales ban.

“Vinpro is not saying a liquor ban may not be 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 used and maintained nationwide bans which are overbroad, unnecessary, unjustified and, indeed, counter-productive.”

With the 2021 harvest commencing this week, the wine industry now has more than 640 million litres of stock of which 300 million is uncontracted.

According to Vinpro a more flexible and nimble approach is needed. This should be based on credible empirical data, where the provincial executive should be empowered to deal with the retail sale of liquor for the rest of the pandemic.

Differentiate between provinces

Basson reiterates that provincial authorities are normally responsible for regulating the sale of liquor and in charge of healthcare and provincial hospitals. As such, they are better equipped to manage the delicate balance between lives and livelihoods.

“Although the liquor ban is intended to ensure that hospitals have the capacity to treat those who become ill, the pandemic affects provinces differently at any given point in time and capacity requirements in hospitals will therefore differ across the country.                           ,

Western Cape premier Alan Winde. Photo: Supplied

“Despite this, government has never differentiated between provinces when it comes to implementing or lifting of the liquor ban.

“Instead, a nationwide ban has been imposed and then again lifted, without regard for the circumstances in individual provinces.

“Urgent interim relief will be sought which would afford Alan Winde, the premier of the Western Cape the power to adopt deviations to enable off- and on-consumption sale of liquor in the province. Ultimately, similar relief will be sought in respect of other provinces.”

The ALCOHOL sales ban has cost the wine industry more than R8 billion in direct sales. IT threatens 27 000 jobs.

Furthermore, Vinpro says they are relieved that the numbers of new infections, active cases and hospital admissions are now significantly dropping across the country, but particularly in the Western Cape.

This follows weeks of shockingly rising infections as part of the Covid-19 second wave.

The liquor ban is simply no longer justified in the Western Cape, says Basson.

“Accordingly, to the extent that the situation does not change for the worse, and if the liquor ban is still in force in the Western Cape by 5 February, the Cape Town High Court will be asked to invalidate minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s ban in the Western Cape with immediate effect.”

‘Stick to science, not emotions’

Vinpro’s ultimatum to national government is supported by the Western Cape government, says Dr Ivan Meyer, the province’s minister of agriculture.

He has now asked written to Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, to support the alcohol industry’s plea for the urgent lifting of the sales ban.

Dr Ivan Meyer, the Western Cape minister of agriculture. Photo: Supplied

The ban should be based on scientific evidence, warns Meyer.

“Now, nearly a month after the restrictions came into place, we believe that the evidence clearly points to the need to relax these restrictions in order to save jobs.

“We are now experiencing a decline in active cases and newly reported daily Covid-19 cases.

“All other indicators are also pointing to the Western Cape having passed its peak, and that the surge – which caused such pressure on the health system – being over.”

Meyer says the department of health in the Western Cape has put in place a number of measures to increase capacity.

“We have adequate beds, oxygen and staff to provide care to every person who needs it. That is why wine sales should now be allowed in line with the ‘differentiated approach’ envisaged during the President’s speech of 14 December 2020.”

Wine grapes represent 50,3% of the 181 233 hectares under fruit production in the Western Cape. The replacement value of these wine grapes amounts to R33,94 billion. Also, wine is the third biggest export product of the provincial economy and contributes 6,5% of the value of its exports.

Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development. Photo: DALRRD

Meyer’s department estimates that in the Western Cape 45 610 people work in the industry’s primary production side, supporting the livelihoods of 228 053 people.

During the initial stages of the Covid-19 lockdown, South Africa was the only major wine exporting country banning wine exports. The result was that the country handed market share on a platter to some of its competitors.

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