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Ramaphosa set to address alcohol ban this week

Restaurants and taverns in Vilakazi Street in Soweto are empty due to national lockdown to curb coronavirus. /Antonio Muchave
Restaurants and taverns in Vilakazi Street in Soweto are empty due to national lockdown to curb coronavirus. /Antonio Muchave

President Cyril Ramaphosa will only be able to respond on Friday to a letter demanding him to alter regulations banning the sale of alcohol during the lockdown.

The presidency yesterday requested the Gauteng Liquor Forum to hold off on the court case it intends on bringing, pending a meeting with the National Command Council this week.

The letter written by state attorney Arista Wasserman stated: "The National Command Council, the presidency and other relevant parties are meeting again this week, specifically to discuss the details of government's economic assistance programme. This includes assistance offered to small businesses such as those of your clients, and other measures to mitigate the effects of the lockdown extension."

Wasserman said they anticipated that the results of the discussions could have an impact in the issues raised by the forum.

Wasserman referred to some of the initiatives that the government put into place to assist small businesses.

Eric Mabuza, the forum's lawyer, said they reluctantly agreed to the request and said courts should always be deemed as a last resort.

"The presidency said it has a big meeting and asked us to give them until Friday [to respond]. We are pleased that the president has looked at the issues and is prepared to engage us," Mabuza said.

Thabiso Modise, the forum's spokesperson, said the government considered their industry as a soft target which made it easy to ban trading.

"Our people are frustrated because they don't know what to do. They are spending money that is meant to go towards their businesses because they don't have a source of income," Modise said.

"Government is acting as if we are responsible for the decisions made by people who drink. We are just traders making a living."

The forum represents 20,000 SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) in Gauteng. Modise said these SMEs include bottle stores, taverns, shebeens and other businesses like spaza shops.

Modise accused the president of failing to understand the needs of his people and that Ramaphosa was not economically affected by the lockdown.

Pertunia Mahlatsi, who runs a tavern in Pimville, Soweto, said the lockdown was necessary and that she did not agree with the call for the government to alter regulations to their benefit. Mahlatsi said she makes R3,000 per week.

"Of course we are losing money and we will struggle to feed our families. In theory, operating on a take away basis would be beneficial to everyone, but we know how South Africans are, it won't work. Thabo will want to go to Lebo to drink there, defeating the purpose of social distancing," Mahlatsi said.

David Mokoena, who inherited his tavern, said: "We need to survive, we understand that this lockdown was meant to create social distancing, but our business does not condone gatherings."

Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use CEO Ingrid Louw said the liquor industry's manufacturing operations and capital expenditure are responsible for an estimated R94.2bn (or 4.4%) of SA's gross domestic product.

"The industry's GDP multiplier is estimated at 2.08 - which means that for every R1.00 in sales revenue generated by the liquor industry, R2.08 is added to the country's GDP," Louw said.

Police minister Bheki Cele said the unavailability of alcohol during the lockdown has yielded a reduction in some categories of crime.

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