Durban - The liquor industry say the government should reconsider the total ban on the sale of alcohol and at least allow off-premises alcohol sales and consumption to continue.
This comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday that the Cabinet had decided to introduce adjusted level 3 lockdown restrictions and had banned the sale of alcohol for the next 14 days due to the rise in Covid-19 cases.
According to the gazetted regulations, the sale, dispensing and distribution of liquor for off-site and on-site consumption is prohibited.
Ramaphosa said the excessive consumption of alcohol was a driving factor in the increase of hospital trauma cases.
Reacting to the announcement, the industry said if the government allowed for the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption, this would allow outlets to operate and prevent possible job losses.
The Beer Association of South Africa (Basa) said that given the surge in infections, they understood the need for urgent interventions, but did not agree with a total ban.
Basa chief executive Patricia Pillay said the organisation was concerned as the previous two alcohol bans had a devastating impact on the beer industry.
According to Pillay, 7 400 jobs and R14.2 billion in sales revenue were lost and 30% of breweries were forced to shut their doors. She said the government lost R7.4bn in taxes and excise duties that could have been used in the fight against Covid-19.
“This third ban will do untold economic damage to the beer sector and the 415 000 livelihoods it supports.”
She added that the body was concerned that the ban would entrench the illicit alcohol trade. The association said the government needed to regulate sensibly and to ensure that those regulations were adhered to.
“There is much that the industry and government can do to encourage moderate, responsible consumption and to penalise those who break the rules. We believe that a third alcohol ban will do more harm than good,” added Pillay.
Jabulani “Mjay” Nzama, owner of the Eyadini Lounge in uMlazi, said that business had been picking up after the first hard lockdown, however, the total closure would have a significant impact.
Nzama said that the president should speak to the banking industry on behalf of businesses in the alcohol industry.
“The banks want their money, regardless of whether we are operating. That is unfair to us as businesses, and we end up failing to pay them, resulting in huge interest and closure of businesses,” he said. He said that due to the move to level 3, more than 20 staff had been let go, including security and car guards, cleaners, bartenders and packers.
“Only a few staff from the restaurant are working, they (the other workers) will have no income and their families will starve.”
South African Breweries (SAB) said it was extremely concerned about the rapid resurgence and spread of Covid19, but disagreed with the alcohol ban.
“Our industry supports over one million livelihoods throughout our value chain, across farming, retail, manufacturing, logistics and many SMMEs whose livelihoods are at stake due to the suspension of alcohol trading.”
“SAB does not believe that an outright ban of alcohol sales is a sustainable approach, as seen with the last two bans. The unintended consequences of such actions are dire, from job losses, tax losses, illicit trading and looting of alcohol stores,” it said.
Economist Dawie Roodt said although it appeared that the economic ramifications had been considered, liquor outlets could have been allowed to operate for off-site consumption.
“People should have at least been allowed to drink in their homes. In that way, businesses would not have to close down and manufacturers would operate and keep their staff.
“People are still going to drink, it’s just that they will be buying it at a high price illegally, resulting in a huge loss of tax income.”