Lift the alcohol ban within seven days or risk the sector’s collapse, say liquor traders

Drinking spots are still shut

South Africa’s tavern and shebeen owners have called for the government to lift the ban on the sale of alcohol in seven days or risk collapsing the sector.

The alcohol industry has been pleading for the government to allow producers and traders to sell alcohol, following the latest trade restriction the government imposed last month. The ban, which followed two other restrictions last year, came after South Africa was hit by a second wave of Covid-19 infections. The government said it had put the ban in place to keep hospital beds ready for pandemic cases and free of alcohol related trauma cases. 

But the industry has been critical of the government’s decision, saying that it was putting jobs and livelihoods at risk and there are better solutions to deal with the infections, such as a stricter curfew and allowing off-site sales to take place. It has also slammed the government for not consulting it about the ban.

“The decision by the president and his cabinet to institute a third ban on alcohol sales on the 28December 2020, further condemning the alcohol industry to 18 weeks of non-trading since lockdown was implemented … has reduced liquor traders to being mere spectators in the economy they have contributed significantly to over so many decades,” said Lucky Ntimane, convenor of the Liquor Traders Council.

Liquor traders employ more than 282 000 people spread across taverns, bottle stores and independent liquor traders, Ntimane said those jobs may be lost if the ban is not lifted within seven days.

“The situation is dire and requires urgent intervention at a level of the president to resolve, the first step of which is allowing the sale of liquor to take hold without delay,” he said.

In a letter sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa by the liquor traders, also on Monday, the group asked for Unemployed Insurance Fund (UIF) Temporary Employee/Employer Relief (Ters) support for the traders, financial relief in the form of a R20 000 package and a moratorium on all liquor licence fee renewals including distribution licences.

Ntimane said the group would do “whatever it takes” to ensure that the industry is reopened, should their plea be ignored.

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