Vinpro, a non-profit company representing 3,500 South African wine producers, will head to court on Monday (23 August) to fight the government’s ongoing alcohol ban and fully reopen the industry.
South Africa has faced complete alcohol sales bans on four separate occasions since the end of March 2020 as part of the country’s lockdown restrictions.
Under the country’s current adjusted level 3 lockdown, which came into effect on 26 July, the sale of alcohol from retail outlets for off-site consumption is permitted between 10h00 and 18h00 from Monday to Thursday.
Alcohol sales for on-site consumption are permitted as per licence conditions up to 20h00.
Vinpro is now contesting the approach followed by the government towards liquor ban restrictions within the Disaster Management Act.
The case is set for hearing in the Western Cape High Court from 23 to 26 August 2021.
“Since the start of this pandemic, we have argued that the provinces, not the national government, should decide whether or not to impose liquor restrictions and should do so with reference to provincial circumstances, including the need to preserve capacity in trauma units in hospitals in the province,” said Vinpro managing director Rico Basson.
“We know provinces are affected differently by the pandemic; therefore, we believe a differentiated approach in handling the crisis is needed to limit the economic impact of a lockdown.”
Vinpro launched its legal application during the second wave of Covid-19 cases in January 2021 and has now also approached the court to include evidence for how the blanket liquor ban missed its purpose during the third wave.
“While we have challenged the government’s decision by way of an urgent interdict application and hearing on 21 July 2021, the matter was subsequently rendered academic because the ban was partially lifted four days later.
“In an interim application, we now ask that this evidence should also be taken into account,” Basson said.
Vinpro said that the government has vehemently opposed its application to introduce such further evidence, arguing that it is moot as the ban has been partially lifted.
“However, we have seen how the government has dealt with the previous liquor bans. A blanket ban is imposed repeatedly, and with a fourth wave likely to hit the country in December, this issue most certainly is not moot,” said Basson.
“Wine is part of agriculture, as is tourism. Our industry supports 80,183 people working at farm level and 228,053 people working further down the wine value chain.”
Basson said that the wine industry has built a strong brand reputation as a unique asset.
“The South African wine industry is more than a drink; it’s a livelihood. And it is our responsibility to make sure we save this industry for future generations.”
A fourth wave of Covid-19 infections is forecast to hit South Africa at the beginning of December.
Salim Abdool Karim, former chairman of the government’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, told Bloomberg that the current estimates show the fourth wave starting on 2 December and will last about 75 days.
The government assumes that the wave will follow a similar pattern to the current one. Speaking at a Government Technical Advisory Centre conference, he said there would likely be a new variant by then. Data suggests the current wave will end around 26 August.