Former Shoprite CEO joins court battle against South Africa’s alcohol sales ban

Former Shoprite chief executive Whitey Basson has joined the calls against South Africa’s ban on alcohol sales and the damage it can to do the country’s economy.

He has now signed an affidavit in support of a court case against the ban which is being brought by the Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai).

Basson, who is involved in wine production, told 702 that he agrees with government policies around handwashing, social distancing and the wearing of masks.

He further acknowledged that the government has a difficult task in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and reopening the economy.

“What I don’t agree with is that when someone gets figures and facts put to them, that it can’t be shared with us what is the cause of the decision that the government takes.

“Being a country with a culture of disagreeing, we can appoint a person who is neutral to the argument, like a judge, to ask who is right and who is wrong.”

He said that the government has been slow in communicating information around the ban. He added that it was ‘not good enough’ to simply say that the ban will be lifted but not provide an indication of when the prohibition will end.

“You can’t lift the ban on Monday and expect people to be selling in two weeks time. There is too little time for people to make rational decisions, and if we don’t make rational decisions now, it is going to get substantially worse.”

He further called on government to designate ‘green zones’, where there are not many coronavirus cases and where there is no possibility of a shortage of beds.

“The different provinces should have different strategies.”

More harm than good

Earlier this week, Pick n Pay chairman Gareth Ackerman said that the government’s decision to ban the sale of alcohol and tobacco in South Africa has done far more harm than good.

Ackerman said that while he acknowledges and supports many of the difficult decisions government has taken in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been little to justify the prolonged banning of alcohol and tobacco.

“The government has on several occasions reassured that they are listening and consulting. But we see little evidence of this,” he said. “We cannot afford decisions that are poorly made or poorly explained. They create confusion and cynicism and erode the togetherness on which we all depend.”

The Pick n Pay chair said that while the prohibitions on alcohol and tobacco sales hurt the group’s sales and cashflow – an obvious sore point – the damage being done goes far beyond just the numbers and financial impact.

“More than any other decision taken by the government during this pandemic – these prohibitions risk creating cynicism and division that we cannot afford,” he said.

“Whatever the reasoning put forward by government, it is inordinately outweighed by the cynicism that it has created. I implore the government to review its decision, and to look at the issue in the spirit of responsibility and togetherness that (president Cyril Ramaphosa) has so rightly upheld.”

No plans to lift ban yet

Comments from the retailers come as health minister Dr Zweli MKhize confirmed that government’s prohibition on the sale of alcohol and tobacco products in South Africa will continue for as long as Covid-19 infection numbers remain high.

Mkhize said that there were clear health benefits to introducing and continuing with the bans – including the freeing up of hospital beds.

“Everything else will open up when the numbers settle down. We shouldn’t really be dealing with it as though there is a contest. We are not contesting anything.

“We just want to make it clear that if something is going to disturb the ease with which we are managing beds, patient numbers, and improving care, we will actually stand up and say that these things should be avoided until we are over the hump.”

He noted that the country was currently going through a surge in coronavirus cases, and that it was difficult to guess what is going to happen. He also disagreed with claims that the ban had served its purpose.

Read: South Africa’s ban on alcohol and cigarettes has not yet served its purpose: Mkhize

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Former Shoprite CEO joins court battle against South Africa’s alcohol sales ban