Johannesburg – Liquor traders are fighting for their lives and have urged the government to do more to safeguard the 250 000 jobs in the tavern sector by lifting the alcohol ban and allowing off-premise sales to resume on January 16. Beer brewers are in a similar situation.
Lucky Ntimane, convener for the Liquor Traders’ Formation, said the majority of taverns faced permanent closure. “With the last two bans, over 165 000 people have lost their jobs and another 100 000 people are moving into poverty as a result. Sadly, these people will not have the minimum resources to protect or sustain their livelihoods.”
Resuming off-consumption sales with restricted trading days and hours can alleviate the predicament while protecting lives.
“We continue to suffer the brunt of the lockdowns first implemented on March 26,” said Ntimane.
He urged law enforcement agencies to take a tougher stance against the illegal trading in liquor.
“The current lockdown environment we find ourselves in encourages networks of alcohol smugglers to fill in the vacuum created of unmet consumer demand for alcoholic products.”
Ntimane said out of the 284 days that the country has been on lockdown, liquor traders have not been able to trade for about 100 days and received no government support to cushion against this blow.
“Closure is the immediate reality faced by the majority of about 34 500 taverns. About 1 million jobs across the full alcohol value chain at risk. Furthermore, the taverns support township-based jobs that anchor households and ensure that families have meals on their tables daily.
“The current lockdown means over 250 000 families do not know where their next meal is going to come from or how they will have means to prepare for their back to school needs.”
The organisation has called on the government to allow off-premise sales with limited days and hours with effect from January 16 and institute a moratorium on licence renewals and linked fee increases for at least one year. It also asked for a financial package of at least R20 000 for liquor traders to cover their non-trading loses.
The Beer Association of South Africa (Basa) has also issued an urgent call to President Cyril Ramaphosa to lift the blanket ban on alcohol from January 16.
The association said this was imperative to ensure the survival of small business owners of craft breweries, who were on the brink of closure due to the third alcohol ban.
Wendy Pienaar, the chief executive the Craft Brewers Association of South Africa (CBASA), said: “While we support all efforts to curb the infection rate, we need to work together to ensure that we are able to save both lives and livelihoods in this fight.”
She said the third ban had a devastating impact.
“CBASA has been inundated with calls from members who have been left depleted of their savings and reserves and are now in desperate need of financial relief if they are to survive. The third ban is devastating to craft brewers, who are small businesses owners who work within small margins, always putting the welfare of their staff before their own. It is now no longer a question of keeping businesses open. It has become a question of whether business owners, their employees and families will have any food to eat this month.”
To make things worse, these craft brewers are the very same people who stepped up during hard lockdown last year by producing soup and stew in their brewhouses from donated vegetables to feed over 2 million hungry people while also manufacturing sanitiser.
“It is heartbreaking to receive calls from brewers who are now in danger of losing everything. We have to stand together to find alternative solutions to the outright ban on the sale of alcohol,” said Pienaar.
One example is Lethu Tshabangu, owner of Ukhamba Beerworx, who opened a new taproom at Makers Landing at the V&A Waterfront in 2020. However, due to the alcohol ban, he now finds himself R300 000 in debt and can’t pay rent.
Without sales, there has been no income, and he does not know how he will pay for his daughter to start her first year of high school this year.
“We need to fight Covid-19 without starting other fires. You don’t bring a snake into your home because you have a problem with rats. The president is protecting us from Covid-19, only to kill us with hunger because we are not allowed to work.”
South Africa’s first black female brewery owner, Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, of Brewsters Craft , said she had no idea how they would make it through the third ban.
“I am hoping we can reopen in order to make a few sales so that we can at least pay our employees something. But I have had to make them aware to not expect much at month end. That is our reality.”
The situation is dire in the beer industry, with an estimated 7 400 jobs lost, R14.2 billion in lost sales revenue and more than a R7.4 billion loss in taxes and excise duties.
Basa said the current curfew from 9pm to 6am should remain in effect, along with the 8pm closing time for businesses. This, together with a ban on gatherings and increased policing, would ensure livelihoods were protected, it said.
Liquor traders urged people to download the Covid-19 Alert SA app from either the Apple App or Google Play stores. The industry also asked the public to use the hotline to report any violation of the regulations: Consumer Goods Council hotline: on 0800 014 856.