In the wake of the recent civil unrest, which resulted in 161 liquor outlets and distribution centres being looted and damaged in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the beer industry is urgently calling for the alcohol ban to be lifted so that legal businesses can operate.
Enabling liquor businesses to operate is a measure required to avoid a possible collapse of the industry and the million livelihoods it supports, the Beer Association of South Africa (Basa) says.
It states that the latest four-week ban is estimated to have put 9 206 jobs in the alcohol industry at risk, with a potential loss of R10.2-billion in taxes and excise duties.
Basa, along with the Liquor Traders Association of South Africa and wine producers association Vinpro have, therefore, written to Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel, requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the devastating impact of the ban and alternative interventions that could save both lives and livelihoods during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The latest ban follows three previous bans, which resulted in over 7 400 jobs being lost in the beer industry, as well as R14.2-billion in lost beer sales revenue and more than a R7.8-billion loss in taxes and excise duties.
Basa says it has also been inundated with stories from craft brewers whose businesses have been devastated by the latest ban, just as they were slowly rebuilding their businesses following the previous three bans.
CASE IN POINT
One such case is that of Aegir Brewery in Noordhoek, in the Western Cape, which was established in 2015 and had been thriving before the Covid-19 lockdown and prohibition of alcohol.
This brewery had expanded its staff complement of 12 to 60 people and opened a second restaurant in Constantia.
However, as a result of the alcohol bans, the new restaurant closed permanently, putting six people out of work. Since then, a further 12 employees have been retrenched, while the remaining staff members have been forced to work on short time and short pay.
Aegir Brewery owner Rory Lancellas says the business went from increasing its staff complement by fivefold, to having to identify and prioritise the most vulnerable staff, such as those who had families and children, to ensure households were not without a salary.
“We cannot sustain this for much longer. I also have children. It is very hard to watch families go through this,” he says.
Another business hard hit is Airport Craft Breweries, which opened in 2014 at the domestic departure and arrivals at OR Tambo International Airport, in Gauteng.
Before the lockdowns of 2020, the brewery employed just over 100 staff members. However, more than half of these employees have subsequently lost their jobs as a result of the bans.
Airport Craft Breweries chief brewer Phumelo Marali has been forced to go and stay with family in Gqeberha as a result of not earning an income over the past few weeks.
He says, “the sad thing is that we have elderly people who work in the kitchens as chefs and catering assistants. If our company closes completely, they will not get a job anywhere else, as it is very hard to be hired at the age of 55 or 60.”
Marali adds that the pandemic and alcohol bans have “really robbed” them of their opportunity to provide for their families.
These businesses, as well as thousands of others, will simply not survive a continued alcohol ban, states Basa.
At the same time, the organisation says it is aware that many South Africans are still obtaining alcohol from illicit channels – an industry which is already worth R20.5-billion.
Further, Basa says the mass looting of liquor outlets and distributors last week in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, served to boost the illegal sale of alcohol even further, making the current ban “even more nonsensical”.
Basa says that because Patel is the Cabinet member directly responsible for trade and industry in South Africa, it is critical that he takes up the industry’s concerns to save a sector that is vital to the economy.
However and “disappointingly”, Basa says that no response has been received from Patel’s office, to date. In this regard, the organisation says it publicly calls on Patel to schedule this meeting as a matter of urgency and to intervene to save a sector that is “on the brink of collapse”.