The biggest-ever united protest in the history of South Africa’s restaurant industry is set to take place on Wednesday as hundreds of eateries, coffee shops and takeaway establishments countrywide will be participating in the ‘Million seats on the streets’ protest against Covid-19 restrictions to trade.
The Restaurant Association of South Africa (Rasa), which is leading the campaign, notified the South African Police Service (SAPS) of the planned protest in a letter sent to Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi via its lawyers Mooney Ford Attorneys on July 15.
Tables and chairs will be used to block roads outside various restaurants between 12pm and 14pm on Wednesday as part of the peaceful protest to highlight the massive impact of Covid-19 lockdown regulations on the industry.
The sector has pretty much been closed from the start of the hard lockdown in late March up to the end of May. Since June it has been operating at limited capacity, with lockdown restrictions not allowing for on-site consumption of alcohol.
According to Rasa, up to 70% of jobs may have already be lost in the industry, totalling some 800,000 people.
“Due to the continual disregard for the restaurant industry, my client [Rasa], its members, and various other restaurants, takeaway shops and coffee shops will be embarking on a nationwide peaceful demonstration,” Ashton Naidoo of Durban-based Mooney Ford Attorneys says in the letter to Mkhwanazi.
“Each restaurant owner will move tables and chairs from their empty restaurants into the street in front of their establishment in protest of the current regulations and to highlight the plight of the industry. We have advised the restaurants that such groups must not exceed 15 people per restaurant and all social distancing protocols will be observed,” he adds.
In the letter, Naidoo asks Mkhwanazi to notify police stations across the country about the planned peaceful demonstration, saying Rasa wants to work with the Saps to ensure the action is done in a peaceful and respectful manner.
“We will be ensuring that restaurants drop a notice at their local [police] station, so that individual stations are forewarned of the demonstration,” he notes.
Rasa CEO Wendy Alberts tells Moneyweb that since the campaign was launched on various social media platforms last week, the association has received the backing of hundreds of members as well as tourism and hospitality industry bodies.
“We are presenting a united front on this as a broader industry, for the government to take us more seriously. The industry is rallying together, and we believe the protest on Wednesday will be the biggest countrywide protest the restaurant industry has ever organised,” she says.
“Rasa is getting support from restaurants and other establishments across the country, including other industry organisations like the Federated Hospitality Association of SA and the Tourism Business Council of SA.
“We have also appealed to the taxi industry for support as well as other sectors that are affected by restrictions to trade place[d] on the restaurant industry,” she adds.
“South Africa’s restaurant and hospitality industry is in dire straits, but very few in government are actually hearing our appeal for help, or even interacting with the industry around the devastation and hardships we are facing due to Covid-19 restrictions,” says Alberts.
“We have no option but to take our plight to the streets in a public protest, but which will be peaceful and within the law …. It is not a march or single mass demonstration, but we are asking our members and other industry players to participate in their own areas.”
Alberts hopes the protest will get the attention of President Cyril Ramaphosa.
She has called on the president to meet around a restaurant table of his choice to hear the industry’s concerns.
“Many of our establishments have already closed down or are still not operating due to restrictions to trade,” she says.
Call for rebate of liquor licence fees
Considering the ban on alcohol sales and on-site consumption at restaurants, Rasa is demanding a rebate of liquor licence fees for affected establishments.
It also wants government to allow 70% seating capacity for sit-down restaurants in terms of Covid-19 restrictions.
Ramaphosa’s recent Covid-19 announcement of a curfew from 21:00 to 04:00 is also seen as a new inhibiting factor to business. Rasa notes that for many restaurants the busiest period is after 17:00. However, with the new curfew, restaurants may only effectively trade until 19:00 to allow for establishments to be cleaned and workers to get home in time.