A coalition of trade groups is calling on the South African government to urgently lift its ban on alcohol in a bid to ‘prevent a total collapse of the industry’ and stop illicit trading.
On 27 June, South Africa introduced its fourth ban on alcohol as part of Covid-19 restrictions. The ban was due to end on 12 July, but was extended by two weeks as the country deals with a rise in coronavirus cases.
South Africa introduced a total ban on alcohol sales at the start of the pandemic, which lasted from 27 March 2020 to 1 June 2020. The ban was brought back on 12 July but reversed a second time on 17 August. In mid-December, a third ban was put in place and lifted in February.
Sibani Mngadi, chairperson of the South African Liquor Brand owners Association (Salba), said liquor stores have increasingly become targeted by thieves even before the alcohol ban was extended.
He said: “We had reports of thefts of stock at warehouses and retail premises in Pretoria, Boksburg, Durban and Bloemfontein. Now, with the political unrest rampant in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, this has become a firestorm.
“There is no doubt that the targeting of liquor stores by the looters is due to the high demand for alcoholic beverages as a result of the ban of sales.”
Salba, along with alcohol trade groups the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA), Liquor Traders Association of South Africa (LTASA), National Liquor Traders (NLT), and Vinpro, are calling on the government to remove the ban on alcohol to prevent a boost to the illicit industry.
Sean Robinson, chairman of the LTASA, said: “Liquor stores have definitely been targeted by looters and many of our members, who are already experiencing crippling damage to cash flow as a result of the ban, have lost their entire stores’ stock running into hundreds of millions of rands. It’s deeply troubling, and the extended ban only increases the risk of this criminal behaviour and will result in further devastating losses.”
Lucky Ntimane, convenor of NTL, added that the ban “serves to entrench the illegal market”, which could become a “permanent feature of the post-pandemic economy”.
Ntimane said the last 14-day ban put more than 4,600 jobs a risk. “More than 233,500 jobs are now on the line due to the prohibition measures,” he added. “Their livelihoods are smashed – and the township economy – where much of the looting has occurred – has been shattered.”
The NTL is recommending that the government allow venues to sell alcohol for takeaway consumption.
“These are not unreasonable demands,” said Ntimane. “We need to work, for the sake of the country, for our community, our businesses, our families and dependents. Being allowed to trade, albeit responsibly, will make a difference between life and death for our members who are looking poverty in the face.”
Furthermore, the CEO of BASA, Patricia Pillay, said the government had still not provided any data to back up the prohibition of alcohol.
She continued: “That is why we will be submitting an urgent PAIA application to the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to get the data on which it has based its decisions to enforce the four blanket bans. We simply cannot stand aside while businesses and jobs are being decimated by the bans and violence sweeping across the country.”
South Africa is the “only country in which liquor sales have been banned without financial assistance forthcoming from the national government”, according to Vinpro’s managing director, Rico Basson.
He said: “Government’s failure to both adequately prepare the health facilities for possible dangerous additional waves and to administer an adequate and efficient vaccination rollout cannot hold the alcohol industry at ransom any longer.”
To learn more about the impact of Covid-19 on South Africa’s spirits industry, read our in-depth feature on the country’s multiple alcohol bans.