Liquor traders warn latest booze ban will only fuel illicit trade

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Shoppers purchase alcohol at Makro in Crown Mines, Johannesburg, on 18 August 2020. PHOTO: Tracy Lee Stark

The National Liquor Traders Council (NLTC) says the latest ban on alcohol sales announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday is not an effective approach in stemming the tide of the third wave of Covid-19 infections in the country.

The Citizen reports, the organisation has raised concerns that government did not consult the liquor industry prior to making its decision to impose a total ban on alcohol sales for 14 days under level 4 lockdown.

The convenor of the NLT, Lucky Ntimane, warned that the prohibition would only fuel the illicit trade in alcohol, leaving taverners deprived of an income without any financial safety net.

“Once again, a decision has been made that will have dire consequences for our members without us being given an opportunity to propose alternative solutions. This comes as a hammer blow to some of our struggling members,” Ntimane said.

With most hospitals struggling with the surge in admissions, and with the third wave being driven by the contagious Delta variant first detected in India in March, Ramaphosa said the new measures were necessary to help flatten the curve.

However, Ntimane said while they appreciate the severity of the situation, but they don’t believe banning alcohol will assist.

He said the illicit trade in alcohol is already booming in the country because of the previous bans.

“Taverners have made a huge effort to ensure maximum compliance with the Covid-19 safety protocols and to follow liquor licence conditions to the letter. All of this hard work will now be undone as illegal operators step in to profit from the ban.

“While we are bitterly disappointed by the announcement, we hope we can work with the government on a more sustainable approach that doesn’t punish legitimate businesses while rewarding unscrupulous criminal syndicates,” Ntimane said.

‘Draconian restrictions’

At the same time, DA leader John Steenhuisen accused Ramaphosa of imposing “draconian restrictions” and forcing South Africans to pay the price for his administration’s “catastrophic vaccine failures.”

Steenhuisen said “every Covid death and every job lost” due to the new lockdown measures, Ramaphosa was to blame.

“So now Ramaphosa is yet again resorting to the blunt instrument of blanket restrictions, the main purpose of which is to give the illusion of action,” he said in a statement.

The DA called for a parliamentary inquiry into government’s handling of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout programme.

Steenhuisen said there should be accountability for this failure.

“Only people who have never started and run a restaurant and who don’t rely on its success would force a restaurant to close with no notice, to cover for their failures. What about all the food sitting in fridges waiting to be sold tomorrow? The government may not plan ahead, but business owners do.

“The tourism industry continues to be shut down at a moment’s notice, with the expectation that they should continue servicing their debts and complying with draconian labour legislation, with no support from government at all.

“All those who rely for their income on the alcohol industry are also once again being made to pay for government failure.”

National curfew

Steenhuisen said South Africans’ civil rights were being curtailed by a curfew that would not be necessary had government planned ahead and delivered vaccines on time.

The national curfew starts from 9pm to 4am, and all non-essential establishment need to close by 8pm.

“None of the individuals who have been entrusted to roll out an efficient vaccine programme and none of those who have decided to shut down parts of the economy face losing their own lives or livelihoods.

“They remain on full salary no matter what, and most of them have probably been vaccinated. None of them will need to face their hungry families and explain why they can’t put food on the table,” Steenhuisen said.

The DA leader said his party had urged government months ago to order excess vaccines and from a variety of sources, but it did not.

“They wheel out excuses about bad luck, but that’s exactly the point. They shouldn’t have expected the vaccine programme to be without challenges.

“Unless government is held accountable for their vaccine failures, South Africans will head into a fourth wave in a few months’ time with the population still largely unprotected, still locked down, and still not assured life-saving treatment from our shambolic healthcare system.”

Meanwhile, the Economic Freedom Fighters have rejected the latest lockdown measures, and called on South Africans to defy Ramaphosa until government comes up with a “clear vaccination plan for the whole country.”

“Experience has thus far demonstrated that lockdowns and restrictions are not a measure to contain coronavirus, and that only mass vaccination will contain the pandemic,” the party said in a statement on Sunday evening.

The Citizen/Thapelo Lekabe