Taverners appeal to government not to push them into poverty

Alcohol bans have forced many compliant township liquor traders to close their doors.

Liquor traders have called on the government to think of the thousands of township households that will be hurt by possible restrictions on alcohol before taking any decisions.

As the rate of Covid-19 infections continues to climb, there has been speculation that the cabinet may consider announcing another round of restrictions on alcohol sales.

“We’ve already had a total of 20 weeks of alcohol bans and many of our members have been forced to close their doors forever as a result. It will take some of these families generations to climb back out of poverty, and there is no vaccine for poverty. Banning alcohol is not an effective strategy to deal with Covid-19. People don’t stop drinking when you ban alcohol, they just find other channels to buy from. This is actually a gift to the illicit trade, at the expense of legal businesses built up over many years," said Lucky Ntimane, convenor of the National Liquor Traders Council.

Taverners have been working with the alcohol industry to drastically improve compliance with Covid-19 protocols and liquor licence conditions.

“We can all see that when alcohol sales are banned, the illicit traders grab the chance to push up their prices and find new customers. At the rate we are going, the whole alcohol trade will end up going underground. Why does the government want to punish the businesses that comply with Covid-19 safety measures and liquor licence conditions, while making the criminals rich?” asked Ntimane.

The NLTC has written to President Cyril Ramaphosa requesting an urgent meeting to discuss more effective measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We know that vaccination must be the top priority, but there are many things we can do in the meantime to assist,” Ntimane said.

“Taverners have been working with the alcohol industry to drastically improve compliance with Covid-19 protocols and liquor licence conditions. We’ve increased the compliance from 75% in October last year to 89% in the latest audit. The problem at the moment is not alcohol, it’s people getting tired of listening to instructions from the authorities and not behaving correctly. We are helping to spread the message that now is the time for maximum vigilance.”

Through the industry body AWARE.org, a total of 40 000 PPE packs have been distributed to taverns, along with sanitiser and educational material to raise awareness of the risks of COVID-19 and the need for maximum vigilance.

AWARE.org has also distributed food parcels to 20 000 taverns during lockdown, in addition to donations of PPE to 25 hospitals, representing a total investment of R145 million in the industry’s Covid-19 response.

“If the government wants our help, we can also help to encourage people to get vaccinated and share the information on how to register,” Ntimane said.

“We can defeat Covid-19 much faster if we work together on real solutions,” he concluded.