Anxiety over possible December alcohol ban in South Africa – industry calls for consultation

The Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) has welcomed the government’s decision to remain at a level one lockdown – with no further restrictions on alcohol sales – but warned that, as per president Cyril Ramaphosa’s Sunday statement, things may change in the coming weeks.

In his address, Ramaphosa said that the sale of alcohol is still permitted according to the regular licence conditions, but may not be sold during curfew hours which run from 00h00 to 04h00 each day. However,  he said that the government will closely monitor infection rates and hospitalisation over the coming days and will review the situation in another week.

“We will then need to determine whether the existing measures are adequate or whether changes need to be made to the current regulations,” he said.

BASA urged the president to engage in consultations with the industry if it intends to reintroduce alcohol restrictions over December.

To date, the government has failed to provide the evidence or data on which they based their decisions to enforce the last four alcohol bans, it said.

“Another immediate ban on the legal trade of alcohol over the holiday season, without any prior warning or an opportunity to properly engage with government, will be the death knell for thousands of businesses and the livelihoods they support,” it said.

BASA said previous alcohol bans had a devastating impact on the alcohol industry, with R42.2 billion lost in retail sales and a R60.7 billion loss to the GDP.

The total excise income tax loss was R10.2 billion with just over 233,000 jobs being put at risk. The bans also served as a major boost to the illicit alcohol industry which grew to be worth more than R20.5 billion in 2020.

The prohibition on alcohol also resulted in 30% of local breweries shutting their doors permanently and 165,000 people losing their jobs by January 2021. With thousands of businesses, who have barely survived the year, relying on the festive season to recover, our sector can simply not afford another ban – like the one enforced last December.

The beer industry said it remains committed to implementing Covid-19 safety regulations over the holiday season, including ensuring proper sanitising, wearing of masks, social distancing and encouraging all South Africans to get vaccinated.

“We call on all liquor outlets and establishments to continue playing their part by enforcing the wearing of masks and social distancing in their establishments. We also call on consumers to drink in moderation and continue taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others from Covid-19 over the coming festive season.

“Finally, we also encourage all South Africans who are eligible to get vaccinated. This is the only way we will be able to mitigate the impact of a fourth wave over the coming weeks.”

Own-goal

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO, Busi Mavuso echoed these sentiments.

In her weekly newsletter, Mavuso said that the government should avoid scoring ‘own goals’ in the wake of the Omicron variant, and steer clear of blanket bans on alcohol.

“Key to avoiding such own goals is consultation. Unfortunately, in previous measures, businesses have been taken by surprise and regulations have caused unnecessary damage. The government needs to understand the consequences of different policy options and business needs to be fully informed to be able to plan to minimise consequences,” she said.

Alcohol restrictions are an obvious example, she said.

“Complete bans have strongly stimulated the illegal alcohol industry, giving resources to criminal networks that enable much wider criminality. It will already take years to undo this. We have also unnecessarily harmed the export trade by restricting the transport of alcohol and harmed industrial uses of alcohol – all unintended consequences that could have been foreseen with consultation.

“There really is no possible health benefit from banning the safe consumption of alcohol in homes and hospitality venues provided other measures like social distancing are being strictly adhered to. It is unacceptable to make the alcohol industry the scapegoat after the government failed to fully implement measures that target what matters: the transmission of the virus.

She said the real focus of all efforts must be on vaccinating the population.


Read: South Africa stays on lockdown level 1 for now – mandatory vaccines being discussed: Ramaphosa

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Anxiety over possible December alcohol ban in South Africa – industry calls for consultation