Restaurants body protests over alcohol ban
Durban - RESTAURANT Association of South Africa (Rasa) chief executive Wendy Alberts is leading a sit-in protest outside the Union Buildings in Tshwane until President Cyril Ramaphosa and his ministers agree to speak to her about the plight of the failing sector.
Alberts said that about 4 000 restaurants out of 11 000 restaurants nationally had closed as a result of the alcohol ban and 9pm curfew imposed in December and an estimated 500 000 out of 1 million jobs had been decimated because of the lockdown.
Alberts said restaurants’ financial models relied on turnover from alcohol sales to ensure businesses remained profitable and with no end in sight to the ban, restaurants were being forced to close.
She said the sector had not received any financial support and restaurateurs had no funds to pay rent and staff as turnover had dissipated.
“There are loads of restaurant doors closing for ever and hundreds of thousands of people are being retrenched, including those working in the value added to the sector… our suppliers, bakers, bread makers and taxi drivers are all affected,” Alberts said.
“It is unnecessary to get to this place… they can’t just shut us down and not tell us when they are going to open us. We need them to open the industry and government cannot just make it an all-or-nothing approach. We are an important contributor to the country’s GDP and an employer of hundreds of thousands of people. You cannot just punish the industry because of a few illegal operators,” she said.
Alberts said restaurants had been asked to post black and white photographs of their empty restaurants and staff who had lost jobs on social media and to hold peaceful protests outside their restaurants, while observing Covid-19 health protocols such as mask wearing and physical distancing.
“I’ll be sitting at the Union Buildings until our president and government talks to us about how we can safely lift the liquor ban and the curfew and how we can support the slowing down of the curve.
“I am happy to sit there until curfew and again the next day and the next until curfew. I’ll be sitting there for days if I have to. I will sit there every day until we get relief,” Alberts said.
The sector wanted to talk to the government about strategies to lift the alcohol ban safely and loosen the curfew to 12am.
She said the sector also wanted to discuss the new legislation regarding a new bargaining council agreement that Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi had signed into law, allegedly without wide consultation with the sector. The legislation provides for annual wage increases, mandatory bonuses, provident fund contributions and weekly payments to clean uniforms.
According to a Euromonitor study, the alcohol industry was losing R12.9 billion a year to the illicit trade, equating to a loss of R6.4bn for the National Treasury before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Food and Allied Workers Union general secretary Mayoto Mngomezulu said the industry was “in crisis” as thousands of staff had either been retrenched or had their income drastically reduced and could not feed their families.
He said restaurants should be allowed to service alcohol responsibly.
“A lot of restaurants have decided to close down due to the ban on alcohol. We want the government to meet with us and some stakeholders so we can make propositions and share ideas,” he said.
Mngomezulu said a major problem was that people were socialising at illegal gatherings during curfew hours and at taverns that served alcohol and police turned a blind eye.
“This can be resolved and one of the things we raised is a lack of law enforcement. You cannot make banning alcohol an ultimate solution… you need to ensure the curfew, gatherings and social distancing is policed but since the government opened alcohol (the last time) they became complacent and were not enforcing the curfew and people were driving drunk when they were not even supposed to be on the street,” he said.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize’s spokesperson Popo Maja said “the need to open the economy is much appreciated”.
“The decision to ban alcohol sales and its consumption in public spaces was not taken lightly by government. It will be interesting to find out how many lives have been saved on our roads because there are no persons driving under the influence of alcohol,” Maja said.
“ICU beds are available for Covid-19 critically ill patients. This was the main aim of the measure by government.”