Pick n Pay group chief executive Pieter Boone has called for president Cyril Ramaphosa to lift the country’s restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
Boone said that the easing of restrictions will be especially beneficial to those businesses that have been severely impacted by recent looting and unrest in parts of the country.
“Speaking to franchisees and independent traders in the affected areas, I firmly believe that it is time now for the president to announce a lifting of the ban on liquor sales.
“We have hopefully passed the peak of the Covid-19 third wave. In normal times, many independent shopkeepers depend on responsible liquor sales to sustain their businesses, and will not survive another prolonged ban. ”
Boone said that the social unrest, looting, and resulting damage has dealt these businesses a further body blow – while also releasing a large amount of looted liquor into the illicit market.
“Lifting the ban will be widely welcomed across the country as a positive and responsible step forward in our recovery from the events of last week.”
“We are working very hard in anticipation of this step. By the end of next week, we will have repaired and be ready to reopen 28 of our 76 severely damaged liquor stores in KZN and Gauteng.”
South Africa moved to an adjusted level 4 lockdown at the end of June, with a complete prohibition on the sale of alcohol.
The alcohol industry has faced various forms of restrictions since South Africa introduced its first Covid-19 restrictions in March 2020, with the government arguing that alcohol consumption leads to increased strain on the country’s hospitals.
Estimates show that the latest four-week ban has placed 9,206 jobs in the alcohol industry at risk, with a potential loss of R10.2 billion in taxes and excise duties.
This follows three previous bans which resulted in over 7,400 jobs lost in the beer industry alone, R14.2 billion in lost beer sales revenue, and a loss of more than R7.8 billion in tax and excise duties.
Boone said that the Pick n Pay Group updated stakeholders earlier this week on the damage to Pick n Pay and Boxer stores as a result of the social unrest and looting.
In total, 136 food, grocery, clothing and building stores were looted and/or burned, along with 76 liquor stores, across KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
Two Pick n Pay distribution centres in KZN were also severely damaged.
“The scale and the nature of the destruction is heart breaking. But I have been inspired by the progress made by our Pick n Pay and Boxer teams in the noble task of cleaning up, rebuilding, and restocking our stores – getting them ready to welcome customers again.
“The progress since I was here last week is massive. Every day, our teams are accelerating their progress and shortening their timescales. ”
“Last week I said that South Africa was bloodied but unbowed. This week, everywhere I have been, I have seen the strength and determination of people to rise from the crisis and build a better tomorrow,” Boone said.
The Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) along with the Liquor Traders Association of South Africa (LTASA) and wine group Vinpro have also written to Trade, Industry and Competition minister Ebrahim Patel requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the devastating impact of the ban, and alternative interventions.
The groups said the restrictions need to be relaxed to avoid a possible industry-wide collapse – which threatens the livelihood of a million people supported by the sector.
“These businesses as well as thousands of others will simply not survive a continued alcohol ban,” said BASA. “At the same time, we know many South Africans are still obtaining alcohol from the illicit industry, which is already worth R20.5 billion.”
The mass looting of liquor outlets and distributors last week in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng boosted the illegal sale of alcohol even further, making the current ban even more nonsensical, the association said.
“As the cabinet member directly responsible for trade and industry in the country, it is critical that minister Patel takes up the industry’s concerns to save a sector that is vital to our economy, to ensure its ability to continue supporting over one million livelihoods during these difficult times.
The association said that it has not received a response from minister Patel.
“The beer industry publicly calls on minister Patel to schedule this meeting as a matter of urgency and to intervene to save a sector on the brink of collapse.”