South Africa’s latest alcohol rules a ‘punch in the gut’

 ·18 Sep 2020

Agricultural industry group Agri SA has welcomed the country’s move to a level 1 lockdown, but has queried the continued restrictions around the sale of alcohol in the county which it describes as a ‘punch in the gut’.

Under the country’s move to a level 1 lockdown, alcohol for home consumption can be sold between 09h00 – 17h00 from Monday to Friday. On-site consumption will be allowed subject to adherence to the evening curfew which runs from 00h00 – 04h00.

“The reopening of all economic sectors will contribute to much-needed economic growth. For this reason, the ban on the sale of wine in stores and on wine farms, especially over weekends, makes no sense,” Agri SA said.

The group said that the continued restrictions will have an extremely negative impact on the sustainability of wine farms which attract a large number of visitors and tourists, particularly over weekends.

Wine farms rely on direct sales from cellars for home consumption and that the industry is being denied an opportunity to recover economically.

“South Africa must now use every opportunity for economic recovery and to get those industries brought to their knees by the stringent Covid restrictions back on track,” said Christo van der Rheede, deputy executive director of Agri SA.

Vinpro, a non-profit company which represents 3,500 South African wine producers in the country, said that the wine sector is a major contributor to domestic and international tourism in South Africa.

“We appreciate that tourism is regarded as a sector that can promote economic recovery,” said Rico Basson, managing director of VinPro.

Basson said that the relaxation of the rules for consumption on the premises, as well as indoor and outdoor events, should unlock opportunities for the sector to recover.

“The continued restrictions on sales for home consumption over weekends according to the direct Covid protocol are disappointing for the 530 wine cellars which rely on direct sales from cellar doors for home consumption.

“This comes during a time when the wine industry, with a significant number of small and medium enterprises, is in dire need of economic recovery, job retention and growth.”

Kurt Moore, chief executive of the South African Liquor Brand owners Association (SALBA), said the liquor industry acknowledges the challenges facing the government in its efforts to stem the pandemic and prevent a second wave of infections, but that the focus should shift to rebuilding the economy.

“Extension of trading days to Friday for off-consumption and two hours extension for on-consumption to midnight is a step in the right direction, but not far enough for our sector that is struggling to recover from the two waves of bans on formal sales of alcohol during the lockdown,” said Moore.

Moore said that a key priority for the country should be to focus on the economic recovery plan as discussed at Nedlac. He said that this is why the sector was disappointed that the government did not allow off-consumption outlets to trade in terms of their licensing conditions or at least engage in some trade on weekends.

“Critical to the economic recovery is the efficient collection of existing revenue and the urgent need to close tax leakages from illicit alcohol trade. Limitations in the weekend off-consumption sale of alcohol continue to provide an opportunity for the illicit networks to expand,” said Moore.

New social compact

While some members are unhappy with the latest rules, the liquor industry has reiterated its commitment to partnering in a new social compact with the government to save businesses and jobs in the sector.

The sector has committed an investment of R150 million into direct harm reduction interventions and programmes over the coming year to assist the government in dealing with the health and social burden of alcohol misuse.

“As an industry we recognise that we have a collective responsibility to protect all our livelihoods as part of the alcohol value chain. Consumers, equally, have a responsibility to behave appropriately and not expose themselves and others to unnecessary harm and potential infection,” said Moore.

Lucky Ntimane, convener of the National Liquor Traders Council, welcomed the decision. “We welcome the two-hour extension in trading hours for taverns.

“This provides an opportunity for the sector to continue to recover. The amendment to 50% capacity instead of 50 people only, provides better variance of application of the rules between outlets with big or small capacity for patrons.”

Patricia Pillay, chief executive of the Beer Association of South Africa, said that South Africans also need to do their part in changing damaging behaviours.

“We are appealing to consumers to play their part in changing our drinking culture and assist in enforcing these measures. We are calling on consumers to moderate their use of alcohol and to behave responsibly as consumers,” she said.

“We advocate a zero tolerance for drinking and driving, and the need to take steps to reduce the numbers of drunk pedestrians on the streets.”

Read: International travel set to return to South Africa in phases: premier

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