On 18 March 2020, the government issued regulations drastically altering the operating hours of liquor sales in bars, clubs, shebeens, taverns and restaurants. They were all limited to operate from 9am to 6pm on weekdays and Saturdays and from 9am to 1pm on Sundays and public holidays.
Many shebeen and tavern owners in the townships were affected by a huge loss in income. Their employees were also directly affected.
The government then decided to enforce a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, effective from midnight 27 March until 16 April, which was further extended until 1 May.
In this country, alcohol consumption is a legal activity, therefore everyone has an equal right to trade in liquor.
On 26 March, the Gauteng Liquor Forum fully supported government measures to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 and welcomed the lockdown as the number of infections was growing. The Gauteng Liquor Forum issued a media statement in this regard.
The Gauteng Liquor Forum was also concerned about the impact of closures on shebeens and taverns. The forum appealed to all of its members and all liquor traders in South Africa to adhere to all measures announced by the government during the lockdown.
The Gauteng Liquor Forum also appealed to the government and financial sectors to support liquor traders during the lockdown.
It is understandable that this pandemic requires extreme measures to curb the disease. This is the reason that the Gauteng Liquor Forum supported the lockdown.
Liquor was not announced as essential as other food and beverage products. The liquor forums viewed this as harsh, given the fact that other countries had made liquor essential. When the government announced relief funding, the shebeens were not mentioned. Shebeens are not formalised, therefore it would be difficult to register them as formal businesses. The Gauteng Liquor Forum opted for legal advice on this matter and letters were sent to the President requesting a relaxation of lockdown regulations to allow the selling of take-aways and people to consume alcohol at their homes.
The government failed to hear the cries of liquor traders and failed to respond positively. Is it because alcohol consumption in this country is perceived to be the cause of bad behaviour? But human behaviour has got nothing to do with alcohol! Sober-minded people can also behave strangely and one can never know what the cause of that is.
In this country, alcohol consumption is a legal activity, therefore everyone has an equal right to trade in liquor. The government should assist in formalising and transforming the liquor industry so that everyone is well looked after.
In God’s name we pray for all those affected by this pandemic.
By: Phumzile Ratladi, NTHA secretary