The South African Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) and National Liquor Traders (NLT) note their disappointment in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to extend the current ban of alcohol sales by another two weeks.
In a joint statement, the two organisations suggest that the decision to further extend the ban appears to confirm media reports that the government had intended to ban alcohol sales for 21 days, but opted to announce a 14-day ban to avoid criticism from business and the general public.
Taking this into account, Salba intends to seek clarity from Parliament to establish whether Ramaphosa “deliberately misled” the public by announcing a shorter alcohol ban, when the recommendation or decision was always to make it longer, the organisation states.
The Beer Association of South Africa (Basa), meanwhile, plans to submit an urgent Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) application to the National Covid Command Council (NCCC) to obtain the data and evidence on which it based its decision to extend the fourth alcohol ban by another two weeks.
In a statement, Basa says that, in all its discussions with government, it has been acknowledged that the main driver of infections is large gatherings and the failure to observe mask wearing and social distancing protocols.
Basa also says it has not been provided with the data showing the link between alcohol and increased hospital admissions, despite requesting this from government on numerous occasions and that this was the decision behind it submitting a Paia application to understand the rationale for the extension of the current ban.
NLT convener Lucky Ntimane calls for Ramaphosa to avail himself to engage in dialogue with the industry, saying there is an “apparent misalignment” between the statements made by Ramaphosa that consultations are taking place with all affected sectors, when in fact, Ntimane says, it is a monologue.
He says industry is making numerous proposals and sharing research, while government keeps its “cards close to its chest”.
Ntimane adds that, at no stage during the past 15 months, has government shared the science on which it has based its decisions, despite repeated requests to do so.
Salba chairperson Sibani Mngadi says the alcohol industry, restaurants, taverns and tourism sectors are carrying the heaviest burden of the inadequate government response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which to date, have relied primarily on alcohol sales bans.
Salba estimates that South Africa’s alcohol industry lost retail sales revenue of R6.1-billion as a result of the initial and most recent 14-day ban, and that the government has lost an estimated R3.6-billion in direct tax revenue (excluding excise tax) and a potential R1.5-billion in excise tax income.
Further, the 14-day ban put an estimated 4 604 jobs at risk, bringing the total jobs at risk for all bans to date, to 233 547 jobs. This, the organisation notes, is equivalent to 1.49% of the national total for formal and informal employment for 2020.
Ntimane states that the restaurant sector is “bleeding, with no sign of letting off anytime soon”, while the hospitality industry is “almost non-existent” with the likes of Sun International temporally laying off 14 000 of its workers.
“Consol Glass [a large manufacturer of alcohol bottles] is losing R8-million a day during this lockdown. Many companies in the alcohol value chain have had to cut their staff salaries by more than 60% since last year April,” he says.
“Despite all forms of gatherings being banned under the current lockdown regulations, the country witnessed a large convergence of people at the home of former President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla, but the police took no action,” says Mngadi.
He says law enforcement authorities ignored the public drinking and the public discharge of firearms that was broadcast on national television.
As such, Mngadi laments the fact that when the KwaZulu-Natal infections spike in the next few weeks because of these illegal gatherings, it will be the alcohol industry that “must, once again, pay the price”.
Meanwhile, Salba notes that liquor-related premises are becoming a primary target of looting linked to the political unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, and organised crimes in other provinces where alcohol warehouses and liquor stores are targeted.
“The continued prohibition of legal alcohol sales only serves to promote more criminal activities including the industrial scale production of illicit alcohol discovered in Welkom, Free State this weekend,” he says.
The industry has argued that restricting mobility through curfews, curbing gatherings and other protective measures including hygiene and sanitation have been recognised globally as the most effective and pragmatic approach to halting the spread of Covid-19. Along with this is a strong emphasis on the need for government to play its role in enforcement.