Cape Town restaurants hope to win court battle seeking to lift alcohol ban
Cape Town - With more than 50 restaurants in Cape Town permanently closing their doors, the battle to save the industry and force the government to lift the alcohol ban has gone to court.
The Western Cape High Court case between a group of restaurants and the government was expected to be heard but was postponed for two weeks.
Restaurant owner Liam Tomlin said: “So far, this lockdown has resulted in over 53 restaurants permanently closing its doors and people are really struggling. What I can’t understand is how the government expects us to survive based on a tourism fund.”
Tomlin is the owner of Chef Warehouse. Tomlin and 10 other restaurants have launched an urgent court bid to lift the prohibition on the sale of alcohol, but it’s now been postponed until August 25 and 26.
The group is asking the court for an order that “all restaurants in possession of a valid liquor licence” should be allowed to serve alcohol with meals to patrons on-site. They are also contesting the physical distancing regulations.
According to them, the requirement to have 1.5m between all patrons should “exclude patrons voluntarily deciding to sit at the same table, sharing”.
“The predominant reason for the postponement is that the government is fighting with all their might. The alternative court order (in the alternative to our main order, declaring Regulation 44, being the ban on sale of liquor, unlawful countrywide), we are also pursuing an order with more limited effect, namely to declare it as such only in the Western Cape province,” he said.
Among the applicants is celebrity chef and restaurant owner Reuben Riffel.
Riffel told Cape Argus the industry felt no one was listening. “We need to be able to open without the alcohol and curfew restrictions. We need to be able to start rebuilding our businesses and, in many cases, our lives and those of our employees.
“It’s way past too late already. Some restaurants are forced to resort to breaking the law to get by and I don’t blame them. Interesting how that’s policed quickly but not illegal cigarette traders,” he said.
In her responding papers to Chef Warehouse, Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said the restriction on on-site consumption of alcohol was rational and lawful.
“It is denied that the eating out experience would be so absurd and unpleasant that nobody would actually want to do it. The statement assumes, as a fact, that all people that frequent restaurants consume alcohol or go out for the alcohol, not the food.”
Restaurant Association of SA (Rasa) chief executive Wendy Alberts said: “Government is refusing to speak to the private sector. If they were genuinely concerned, they would have listened to our concerns but they have not taken it seriously. The president was supposed to address us already because the National Disaster regulations expire on August 15. There is no good will and they are arrogant.”
Last month, restaurant owners across the country put their tables and chairs on pavements and in the streets while their staff demonstrated with placards in a desperate appeal for help by the industry’s 800 000 workers whose jobs are on the line.
It prompted Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane to extend trading hours for restaurants until 10pm.
Kubayi-Ngubane’s spokesperson, Hlengiwe Mokoto, said: “There has been regular interaction with various stakeholders to see how we can get the sector back to life. These interactions, which are almost on a weekly basis, have helped us gather inputs from all stakeholders on how best to reopen the sector and support the recovery going forward.”
Meanwhile, two popular restaurants - the Addis Ethiopian Restaurant in Long Street and Batavia in Bo Kaap - have announced they will be closing.
Mayco member for economic opportunities and asset management James Vos said: “Our local economy is on the verge of destruction. We must be allowed to get back to work, particularly in the tourism, hospitality and related sectors. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are on the line and we cannot afford to wait any longer.
“The reinstituted alcohol ban and curfew will be the final nail in the coffin and mean even more job losses.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s acting spokesperson, Tyrone Seale, said: “The Presidency remains concerned about the economic impact these regulations have caused. We are closely monitoring the progress of the pandemic so that the restrictions do not remain in place for long periods of time.”