Bar fight goes on after confirmation of lockdown ban, says booze industry

Bar fight goes on after confirmation of lockdown ban, says booze industry

The alcohol industry is refusing to take the continuing lockdown booze ban lying down.

On Saturday, the Gauteng Liquor Forum sent an angry reply to the State Attorney, which informed it on Friday of the National Command Council’s decision to reject its request for a relaxation of the ban.

The forum said it would not go through with its threat of legal action, because the courts would be unable to rule by April 30 when the lockdown is due to end after five weeks.

But it demanded to know by Thursday whether the lockdown would be extended, how much longer it would last, and whether the government would extend financial assistance to unregistered shebeens.

“Needless to say, if there are no satisfactory responses — and more particularly if our clients’ fears of a lockdown extension prove to be well-founded — then [the forum] reserves the right to approach the court on an urgent basis without any further written notification to yourselves or the presidency,” Eric Mabuza, the forum’s lawyer, told the State Attorney.

The SA Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) also said it was dismayed by the National Command Council decision.

Spokesperson Sibani Mngadi said it had approached President Cyril Ramaphosa and relevant ministers to suggest that if the lockdown was extended, bottle stores should be allowed to open for limited hours.

It also wanted permission to export its products. “Half of wine produced in SA is for exports and these wines are in the top 10 in the global supply of wine,” said Mngadi.

“SA is the only wine-producing country that has halted exports while competing countries like Argentina, Australia, Chile and New Zealand continue to export their wines.

“Exporting wines, spirits and ready-to-drink products to countries that are independently allowing alcohol trade has no effect at all to SA national response to the outbreak, but has led to R650m in lost sales revenue in the first three weeks of the lockdown.”

Salba has also requested a delay in the payment of excise tax on drinks “to allow companies to preserve cash to pay suppliers and employee salaries during the period of no alcohol trade activity in SA. Payments can be made upon resumption of economic activity.”

Mngadi said the lockdown was likely to be lifted in stages, “and we hope that the above proposals can still be considered in part or in full”.

In its letter to the Gauteng Liquor Forum on Friday, the State Attorney said the decision to maintain the alcohol ban was based on the “dangers associated” with drink sales.

The letter said: “The sale of alcohol is self-evidently not an essential service. On this basis alone, it was considered that the sale of alcohol should not be permitted.

“The sale and consumption of alcohol also has proven links to an increase in violent crime, motor vehicle accidents, medical emergencies, and results in full emergency rooms and hospitals.

“In the face of a pandemic such as Covid-19, the experience of the rest of the world has shown us that hospitals need to be prepared to receive and treat vast numbers of Covid-19 patients and to quarantine them from non-infected patients.

“Prohibiting the sale of alcohol is also aimed at ensuring compliance with the lockdown regulations, social-distancing protocols and proper hygiene practices by reducing or eliminating the number of intoxicated persons, in light of experience of non-compliance by intoxicated persons in general.”

In its response on Saturday, the forum said one of its main concerns — that the vast majority of its 20,000 members did not qualify for government disaster assistance — had been ignored.

“[The forum] fully supports the prohibition of on-consumption sale of liquor during the lockdown but disputes the lawfulness of the total ban on off-consumption sales,” it said.

It objected to the State Attorney’s references to “intoxicated persons … among the most vulnerable in society”, saying this was code for black people living in townships.

“What is not explained is why the consumption of liquor in the white and affluent areas, where the rich classes reside and drink liquor from their well-stocked bars and cellars, will not increase violence, including domestic violence,” said the letter.

“Such blatant racial discrimination has no place in a constitutional state.”

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