VINPRO, a non-profit company that represents close to 2 600 South African wine producers, cellars and industry stakeholders, said yesterday that it was extremely disappointed with the Cape High Court’s ruling yesterday in the court case in which the wine industry body had disputed the government’s approach to restrictions on liquor trade within the Disaster Management Act.
Although it was currently considering whether to apply for leave to appeal the judgment, the initial advice that it had received was that an appeal, should leave be granted, would not achieve much as the appeal, in all probability, would only be heard in the second half of next year.
Vinpro said it reserved the right to approach the court again on an urgent basis should this be deemed necessary.
The three points argued during Vinpro’s court case, which was heard towards the end of August this year, included its argument regarding the structure of government (provincial versus national), an interim application asking to take evidence regarding the third wave into account, as well as the issue of mootness since the ban had partially been lifted at the time.
The court, however, refused Vinpro’s application to introduce new evidence and found the application moot as the regulations had since changed. It also dismissed the structure of the government’s argument and determined that each party should be liable for their own legal costs.
Vinpro’s managing director, Rico Basson, said that they were extremely disappointed with the ruling.
“Government’s blunt approach, unwillingness to consult and lack of transparency regarding the empirical data used in decision-making, has caused irreversible damage to the wine and tourism industry. The industry has not only lost more than R10 billion in sales revenue, but has also seen significant job losses and has suffered international reputational damage.
“The only way for wine-related businesses to recover and rebuild is by creating an enabling environment for sustainable growth. This includes government policies that are based on thorough and transparent empirical data and are consistently implemented and strictly enforced,” said Basson.
In response to the judges’ criticism of Vinpro over the timing of its court applications, Basson said that Vinpro always submitted its applications and court documents timeously and on an urgent basis, but did not have control over when the applications would be heard.
“To our utmost frustration, we were at the mercy of a legal process over which we had no control. The court repeatedly unilaterally postponed the hearing dates, or reserved judgment until after restrictions on liquor sales had been lifted.”
Vinpro accused the court of having bent over backwards to accommodate the government respondents without providing clarity on important issues raised by Vinpro, especially in respect of the government’s blunt approach to dealing with lockdowns, instead of a nimble, provincial-based approach.
Basson said that the court erred in finding that Vinpro made the concession that, by temporarily reducing the consumption, this did not protect the healthcare system. They in fact had emphasised that it remained the responsibility of the government to create capacity in healthcare and to use targeted interventions to reduce the impact on lives and livelihoods.
“We want to confirm that the industry continues to work closely with role players on various levels to help the government make informed, fact-based decisions with regard to the liquor trade, while our businesses also have all the necessary measures in place to keep our employees, clients and visitors safe. We now have the opportunity to show that we can stand together against Covid-19 to keep our industry open,” Basson said.
Two weeks ago, the Beer Association of South Africa (Basa), which comprises the Craft Brewers Association, Heineken South Africa and South African Breweries, called for proper consultation by the government before it considered any new regulations to stop the spread of Covid-19 over the coming festive season.
Basa chief executive Patricia Pillay said the industry was only now starting to recover and looking forward to the December trade, with the festive season being the busiest time for the tourism industry which the alcohol industry relied on.
Basa said previous alcohol bans had a devastating impact on the alcohol industry, with 14.7 percent of projected sales volumes for 2020/21 being lost (a total of 1 262.7 million litres). R42.2 billion was lost in retail sales and there was a R60.7bn loss to the gross domestic product.
BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE