Extended alcohol ban detrimental for small craft brewers

12th January 2021 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Contributing Editor and Photographer

The Beer Association of South Africa (Basa), in rejecting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s January 11 announcement on the extension of a blanket alcohol ban, says such a move will be a “death knell” for many small craft brewers as they will “simply not survive” the extended prohibition.

Basa reports that, already, 30% of local breweries have been forced to permanently close, resulting in 165 000 job losses.

With the ban having been extended, many of the remaining small businesses will be destroyed "while doing untold economic damage to the beer sector in general", Basa says. This will put at risk the 415 000 livelihoods it supports, it adds.

Basa also notes that more than 100 000 people have already slid into poverty because of the alcohol ban in the beer industry alone.

The organisation says that, although it is “well aware” of the immense pressure Covid-19 has placed on South Africa’s healthcare system and the need for urgent interventions to curb the spread of Covid-19, such measures cannot be at the expense of people’s livelihoods.

“Our members, especially small business owners and their employees, now have no way to put food on the table, and care for their loved ones who may also fall ill,” states Basa.

Earlier in January, Basa highlighted the plight of small business owners and craft brewers who now stand to lose everything as a result of the third ban on alcohol sales.

Craft brewers such as Ukhamba Beerworx owner Lethu Tshabangu and Brewsters Craft owner Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela have committed several years of their lives towards building their breweries and supporting their employees.

However, Basa says, such entrepreneurs will not be able to survive until the end of January and will have to advise their employees to not expect salaries at the end of the month.

Tshabangu says he now finds himself R300 000 in debt following the opening of a new taproom at Makers Landing at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town. He has rental fees which he cannot pay as he is unable to sell any stock.

“We need to fight Covid-19 without starting other fires. [Ramaphosa] is protecting us from Covid-19, only to kill us with hunger because we are not allowed to work.”

Nxusani-Mawela, a female brewery owner, also stands to lose everything in a male-dominated industry she has spent years working to succeed. Basa says she has categorically stated that she was hoping she could reopen to make a few sales so that she would be able pay her employees something at month-end. However, Basa points out that this will no longer be the case.

ILLICIT BOOM?

Basa is also “deeply concerned” that the legitimate beer sector will never recover from this extended ban, which it believes provides a further boost to those who engage in the illicit manufacture and trade of alcohol.

Already, and prior to Covid-19, World Health Organisation estimates indicated that a quarter (24%) of all alcohol consumed in South Africa was sold illicitly. “We believe that illicit trading will now increase as criminal syndicates begin to entrench themselves, just as Al Capone did in prohibition-era America,” states Basa.

Besides its link to criminality, Basa highlights that the illicit and unregulated trade and consumption of alcohol poses serious health risks such as blindness, liver damage and even death. In this regard, Basa also points out that the recent ban has once again resulted in an increase in home brewing.

Going forward, Basa will be requesting an urgent meeting with the Presidency and various ministries to unpack the rationale being used for the extension of the ban and its implications for the beer sector. The organisation will also resubmit its proposals to encourage moderate, responsible consumption.

“We will also reiterate our proposal for off-site consumption trade to be resumed within the framework of the existing curfew, restriction on gatherings and events.”