The announcement of restrictions on alcohol sales over the Easter weekend has ended speculation about an outright ban, but the industry is concerned about the effect on retailers.
On Tuesday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that alcohol trading would be restricted to onsite consumption at restaurants, shebeens and bars, and that retail sales would be stopped over the four-day Easter weekend, amid concerns about a third wave of Covid-19 infections.
The government has been walking a tightrope, instituting lockdown regulations to ensure that infections stay low on the one hand, and keeping the economy open to preserve lives on the other. These lockdown regulations have included restrictions on alcohol trading.
For the liquor industry, the on-again, off-again bans that started at the beginning of the lockdown in March last year, have resulted in the loss of 19 weeks of trading and a R36-billion loss in sales revenue, while 200 000 jobs hang in the balance.
The alcohol producers have been at odds with the government over the decision to ban liquor sales to keep hospital beds free of trauma cases so that Covid-19 patients have access to care. The industry has been calling for the state to share the data it has used to reach its conclusion, saying that curfews have been more effective in curbing trauma cases and that the bans have been fuelling illicit trading.
Sibani Mngadi, the chairperson of the South African Liquor Brand owners Association (Salba) said: " In our view, from where we were last week, [the restriction's] a reasonable outcome that considers the general interest of the country in terms of economic activity, as well as tourism and other things that need to recover at this point."
However, Mngadi said that, at some point, the state needs to have a discussion with the industry about the rationale behind the restrictions for retailers and the impact the restrictions have had.
"It has become a normal practice, to restrict retailers in terms of operational days, restricting them to four days and it has happened at different levels of the lockdown and no clear reason has been given," Mngadi said on Tuesday night.
He added that consultations between the government and the industry needed to be improved and that there needed to be an alignment between the two parties on the requirements to minimise infections.
Convenor of the National Liquor Traders Council Lucky Ntimane said the announcement to partially allow the sale of alcohol was a welcome development that would support the recovery path the sector was on.
"We do however … feel that not allowing off premises sales to take hold will have a negative effect on the retail sector that has been one of the hardest-hit sectors due to the ban," Ntimane said.
Ramaphosa also announced that religious gatherings would be limited to 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors, but Ntimane said that there needed to be a sustainable way for congregations to gather.
The government's move to allow onsite consumption to continue has also been welcomed by the country's eating establishments, which previously said a lot of business was lost when establishments couldn't serve alcohol.