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Open taverns, bring alcohol closer to the people: liquor outlet owners

Bringing alcohol to the township will limit the spread of the coronavirus, claim shebeen owners.
Bringing alcohol to the township will limit the spread of the coronavirus, claim shebeen owners.

Several liquor traders' associations have teamed up to plead with the government to allow taverns and shebeens to operate during lockdown level 3.

The associations, which reportedly represent about 50,000 shebeens and taverns, say selling booze in the townships will be beneficial for the government's aim to quash the spread of the coronavirus.

The traders suggested that bringing alcohol closer to the people who consume it will ensure less overcrowding at major liquor outlets and reduce the need for travelling to buy booze, while also rejuvenating the township economy.

In a statement, the associations said: “With between 80% and 90% of alcohol sales in townships being driven by taverns and shebeens, only allowing alcohol retailers to open in level 3 will result in limited sales points, which are often located on the outskirts of townships. These points will be inundated with customers eager to purchase.

“This mass descent on very limited stockists will result in non-adherence to social distancing measures and will no doubt undo much of the good work being done by government in its attempts to curb the spread of Covid-19 within townships.”

The consortium also highlighted that travelling with alcohol would be a problem for many township dwellers, who had to go out of their way to reach it while “alcohol is not permitted on public transport”.

The consortium said the taverns and shebeens would follow strict guidelines, including limiting the hours and number of sales.

The consortium said it was also worried about the large number of liquor distributors who were operating without permits prior to the lockdown. These are people who stand to be left behind should the government open sales for legitimate permit holders.

“Beyond the impact of limited outlets on virus spread, the consortium is also alarmed by the huge financial consequences brought about by the lack of shebeen and tavern sales on the permit holders and operators and their staff. Each tavern usually supports numerous families and provides a vital cash flow into the local community,” it said.

Winston Hector, representative of the consortium and president of the National Liquor Forum, said: “As the industry has not been permitted to operate for almost two months, this sector of the township economy has already been severely impacted.

“Our members have not been able to pay wages to their employees and to service other operating expenses in their businesses. Should the sale of alcohol continue to be suspended, many of our members many never recover post the lockdown period.”

He stressed that through alcohol sales, many families were able to sustain themselves and send their children to school, but the lockdown threatened their livelihood.

“We need this industry to continue to support and feed our families, educate our children and develop the next generation of business leaders, entrepreneurs, doctors, and nurses – many of whom our businesses have afforded us the opportunity to educate,” he added.

Should the government allow shebeen and tavern owners to operate, the consortium said they would work with the police to ensure that lockdown regulations are adhered to and social distancing is implemented.

The group said they could open their taverns and shebeens for the government to use for community screening and testing, as well as to distribute educational material.

They also offered to work with manufacturers in the industry to implement a "click and collect" system, which would require buyers to place their orders beforehand to avoid queues for purchases.

In a bid to protect tavern workers and customers, they said they would educate tavern owners and workers about how to protect themselves from the virus and make sure they always use personal protective equipment.

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