Industry body the Beer Association of South Africa (Basa) has written to Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel requesting his urgent intervention, at Cabinet level, to ensure that further "irrational" alcohol bans are not imposed, especially over the coming festive season, which is a critical time for the local beer industry and the thousands of jobs it supports.
"With the recent media announcement made by Police Minister Bheki Cele that alcohol sales will be banned on November 1, when local elections will be held, Basa remains concerned that there is a real risk that government will, once again, enforce arbitrary alcohol restrictions when the expected fourth wave of Covid-19 infections hits in December," says Basa CEO Patricia Pillay.
The latest appeal for Patel to meaningfully consult with the industry follows previous letters sent to him over the past few months, in which Basa requested to meet and discuss the devastating impact of the previous four alcohol bans. Basa says it has yet to receive a response to its letters.
"The previous four bans saw the beer industry losing 161 days of trade since March last year, putting just over 240 000 jobs at risk with a tax revenue loss of R34.2-billion and R10.2-billion lost in excise revenue. No government funding or relief has been provided to assist our sector throughout this crisis, which has resulted in many small businesses, including 27 craft breweries, being forced to close their doors permanently.
"South Africa currently has the highest unemployment rate in the world. Any further job losses within the alcohol industry will have a devastating impact on our economy," the association says.
The beer industry has repeatedly requested government to provide scientific data and evidence on which it has based its decisions to enforce the previous alcohol bans. When the country was moved to Alert Level 2 on September 21, bottle stores were allowed to operate for one extra day a week on Fridays.
"Unsurprisingly, this was not what government's scientific advisers had recommended. A memo from the Ministerial Advisory Committee indicated that any attempts to keep in place the ban on alcohol sales for offsite consumption on Saturdays was difficult to justify. This proves that government’s restrictions on alcohol have not been the result of an evidence-based approach," the association argues.
Given such arbitrary decision-making, Basa fears that the local beer industry could once again suffer the consequences of government restrictions in the lead up to summer. This concern has been reinforced by Cele announcing that alcohol sales will be banned on municipal election day, with no reason given for government’s decision or any consultation with the industry having taken place.
"Basa continues to call for proper consultation by government before considering any new regulations to stop the spread of Covid-19 over the coming months."
"Our industry, and the more than 450 000 livelihoods it supports, can not afford [South African President Cyril Ramaphosa] announcing another immediate ban on the legal trade of alcohol without any prior warning or an opportunity to properly engage with government.
"Basa firmly believes that, as the Minister responsible for trade and industry, Patel should listen to our plight and take up our concerns in order to help us save a sector that is vital to our economy and job creation. It has, therefore, requested an urgent meeting with him to discuss government’s plans to save lives and livelihoods ahead of the festive season.
"With thousands of businesses and jobs across the beer value chain still at risk, immediate action is required if we are to keep people employed and families fed over the December period," the association says.