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SA liquor industry scrambles to avoid another ban on alcohol sales

| Legislation

The South African liquor industry has warned the government of the potential negative impact on economic recovery and jobs if another ban on the sale of alcohol is imposed.

Siphelele Dludla | IOLalcohol retailer

Fears within the industry have been growing since three provinces officially declared a third wave of Covid-19 infections, as this could prompt the government to implement stricter lockdown measures.

The tavern sector is worth over R60 billion annually, accounting for 80 – 90 percent of liquor sales in townships, and approximately 43 percent of total alcohol sales.

A coalition of liquor traders has written to President Cyril Ramaphosa seeking his audience to help find sustainable solutions to combat the pandemic without banning alcohol.

The National Liquor Traders Council (NLTC) and Liquor Traders Association of SA yesterday said any decisions taken should be guided by scientific evidence.

The National Coronavirus Command Council is expected to deliberate the latest Covid-19 surge and advise the government accordingly, this week.

NTLC convener Lucky Ntimane said the 19-week ban on alcohol sales last year and earlier this year, had been nothing short of death knell for the alcohol industry.

Ntimane said the tavern sector which is worth over R60bn in sales annually and employs well over 282 000 workers, had been particularly hit hard by the alcohol ban.

He said liquor traders wanted to continue to operate, subject to fully complying with safe operating standards as a means to fight Covid-19 with a less negative impact on the economy.

“Where restrictions in economic activity are required, these should be clearly explained with clear end dates,” Ntimane said.

“This allows businesses to plan, rather than facing an open-ended disruption which is significantly more difficult to manage and leads to far greater business distress and job losses.

 “Setting clear end dates, or at least clear criteria upon which restrictions would be lifted is vital.”

Last week, the SA Reserve Bank revised upwards South Africa’s economic growth forecast to 4.2 percent in 2021.

This was based on a faster Covid19 rollout programme, less restrictive lockdown measures, and uninterrupted energy supply or limited power cuts.

Governor Lesetja Kganyago, however, warned that getting back to pre-pandemic output levels will take time as Covid-19 continued to pose a threat to recovery.

More than 55 500 South Africans have died of Covid-19 to date, with an average of 3 000 new cases recorded, and this number is expected to spike over the coming weeks.

This is why the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (Saapa SA) continued to call for restrictions on alcohol sales, and a complete ban on advertising during the lockdown.

Saapa SA called on the government to impose considered restrictions immediately to decrease harmful drinking ,and the associated flouting of Covid-19 protocols.

It said while it had never been unsympathetic towards job losses in industries that rely on alcohol sales, its priority was to advocate for public health, safety and well-being.

“There is no ambiguity about our agenda,” Saapa SA said.

“We don’t want to see South Africa in a situation similar to that of India and other parts of the world where the healthcare system has collapsed.”

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