Vinpro heads to court as it fights booze ban
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DURBAN - A court application to invalidate Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s alcohol ban in the Western Cape, is set to be heard on February 5.
The application by Vinpro, a non-profit body representing South African wine producers, cellars and industry stakeholders, will be heard in the Western Cape High court.
Vinpro managing director Rico Basson said that they shared government’s concern over the devastating effect of Covid-19, and supported meaningful measures to flatten the curve,. However, Vinpro, did not support the continued outright ban on the sale of wine as alternative interventions were available to mitigate risks.
“Faced with the devastating impact that the third ban has had on the wine industry, Vinpro was left with no choice, but to approach the Cape High Court. (An) Urgent interim relief will be sought which would afford the Premier of the Western Cape the power to adopt deviations to enable off- and on-consumption sale of liquor in the province.
“ Ultimately similar relief will be sought in respect of other provinces. The matter is set down for hearing on 5 February 2020,” Basson said in a media statement.
Vinpro does not dispute that a liquor ban might be justified when hospitals and particularly trauma units are under pressure. However, it believes that the government has been using the wrong levels in dealing with the retail sale of liquor. Vinpro also believes that the maintainence of nationwide bans are too broad, unnecessary, unjustified and counter-productive.
Basson said over the past year, the wine industry had worked tirelessly to be part of the solution as South Africa was gripped by the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
“This included collaborating with government and proactively implementing preventative measures from farm to retail, to safeguard the lives and livelihoods of the people working throughout our value-chain and the broader community,” said Basson
“Despite continuous engagement with the government to curb the spread of the virus through the implementation of a risk-adjusted approach to re-opening the economy, and addressing the social ills of alcohol abuse through a social compact, our proposals were not taken into account when the third ban was introduced on 28 December 2020.
“The government has also not been transparent with us on justifying the continued ban, nor did they give any explanation or clarity on the timeline for a review of this ban. This makes planning and contingency plans impossible,” Vinpro said.
Vinpro said the industry which relies heavily on tourism and hospitality, found itself in a dire position after a ban of 19 weeks since March 2020.
The National Planning Commission said this had resulted in a loss of more than R8 billion in direct sales and the possible closure of cellars and producers which threatened some 27 000 jobs, and put the most vulnerable in its communities in a poverty trap which would have far reaching socio-economic outcomes that would place even greater strain on the country’s healthcare system.
Vinpro said that with the commencement of the 2021 harvest this week, the industry now had more than 640 million litres of stock of which 300 million was uncontracted.
Basson said this posed a material risk of insufficient processing and storage capacity for the new harvest and threatened the sustainability of the wine industry.
Vinpro expressed relie that the numbers of new infections, active cases and hospital admissions were now dropping faster across the country, particularly in the Western Cape.
“In these circumstances, the liquor ban is simply no longer justified in the Western Cape. Accordingly, to the extent that the situation does not change for the worse, and if the liquor ban is still in force in the Western Cape by 5 February, the Western Cape High Court will be asked to invalidate Minister Dlamini-Zuma’s ban in the Western Cape with immediate effect,” said Basson.
Nedbank Agriculture national head John Hudson said while at an aggregate level the agriculture sector was in good shape, the extended ban on liquor sales was disastrous for the wine sector which was already reeling from earlier restrictions imposed during lockdown.
“As we have done when facing other challenges, such as the drought, we will look to support our clients and have been in regular contact with the relevant sector role players such as Vinpro and our clients,” said Hudson in response to a Business Report enquiry last week.
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE